The Bloomsbury Handbook of Sound Art

2020-02-13 by Holger Schulze | Comments Off on The Bloomsbury Handbook of Sound Art

Over a dinner at Café Wilder in Copenhagen, October 11th, 2016, we, Sanne Krogh Groth and I came across some intriguing ideas for a handbook on SOUND ART in the 21st century:
it should definitely include discussions of the post-apocalyptic in sound art as well as sonic intimacies and sonic fiction, it should discuss decolonization and deinstitutionalization as aesthetic strategies, and the actual crafting of sound art-instruments should also be explicitely addressed and presented.

To achieve this, we would be focusing on a diverse corpus of artists and authors, including much more female and genderqueer artists as well as perspectives, authors and artists that bring in aesthetics from the southern hemisphere of this planet, outside an often largely eurocentric if not germanocentric interpretation and discourse of what could be called sound art.

sound art table

40 months later and with 35 authors onboard, this handbook is now in stores.

Please enjoy this preview of the handbook – including the Table of Contents and our introduction:

Sound Art: The First 100 Years of an Aggressively Expanding Artform

An Almanac of Sound Words

2019-12-02 by Holger Schulze | 2 Comments

How do you speak about sound? This core question of sound studies and of artistic approaches around sound is probably troubling listeners and sound aficionados since the beginning of hearing – and it might actually never be resolved within the research frameworks of the cultures you and I inhabit, embody, and perform right now. However, the efforts to collect the words and idioms and vocalizations with which one might communicate a sonic experience, they never cease. Humanoid aliens like you and me, we love and we enjoy speaking about sound. It is simply a thing.

One of the most recent efforts to investigate the language for sounds and to collect sound words comes from German media and sound studies scholar Bernd Herzogenrath. Since 2017 he published together with Patricia Pisters a series of impressive volumes in their new Thinking Media-series – for instance on Sonic Thinking, on Media Matter or on Society After Money. Volumes that bridge the gaps between an English- and a German-language media studies discourse, between new materialisms and critical theory, as well as between cultural studies and sound and and sensory studies. Now he is planning an almanac of sound words.

For this endeavour he addresses:

mainly sound artists for whom English is not the first language, to contribute such a word or concept in their own mother-tongue (maybe even untranslatable) with a personal, explanatory, poetic entry – words that have the potential to maybe even change our perspective on listening- musicking-thinking … and if English words, then non-standard English, for example Welch, Gaelic, different dialects words. (Email by Bernd Herzogenrath)

These sound words should be „words related to sound – onomatopoetical, mythological, practical, etc., words of personal importance to you and your craft, words from your memory“ (ibid)

So, if you are interested in contributing, please get in touch by mail with Bernd in the next weeks, until New Year’s Eve (December 31, 2019). Depending on how many contributors propose their entries, the inividual contributions will either consist of (short) essays, or dictionary-style entries.

Short proposals are then due by ***March 15, 2020*** – and the final contributions should be handed in by the end of 2021. The publication would then be released in summer 2022.

Is there one sound word of yours that immediately comes to mind?

Honey is Something We Make Together

2019-11-27 by Zora van Harten | 1 Comment

“They don’t have honey here,” a man said confused. At the end of his journey through the tent of the installation, he was disappointed that there was no honey to taste. Instead, he had to navigate through four different spaces filled with sounds of bees, birds, and tower bells coming from the hidden speakers behind the piles of blue bee hives that surrounded him.

This man was moving through the installation called Honey is Something We Make Together, which happened on Copenhagen’s annual Kulturnatten (11 October 2019) and was part of the ‘Live Like Tomorrow’ C40 World Mayors Summit. The aim of the festival was to raise awareness on the role of cities and their businesses in relation to climate change and the creation of sustainable environments. The installation was created by Oliver Maxwell (Founder of the Bybi Honey Company, Copenhagen) and Melissa Van Drie (‘Sounds Delicious’ Project, Arts & Culture Department, University of Copenhagen), with scenography of architect Mia Frykholm and collaboration of Kathrine Friis (Bybi). With Oliver being the director of Bybi that produces raw local honey and Melissa running a research project on sensory experiences of food, they decided to join forces and explore the different aspects of honey-making.

Their installation consisted of four different spaces that focussed on different aspects of the honey-making process. People silently entered a space and listened to sound recordings of queen bees communicating with each other through the rubbing of their wings and the shaking of their bodies. Listeners were invited to imagine the ways bees feel sonic vibration. Next, visitors were led into a second space where they could touch and smell honeycombs created by the bees. In the third space, a bee keeper was waiting to hand over a flower bulb that would turn into a crocus. The visitor was then invited to dip their finger in paint, choose one of the places written on the walls of the fourth space, and mark the spot where they would plant their flower.

Bybi Listening Bybi Honeycombs

Bybi Flowerbulbs Bybi Fingerpaint

Bee sounds and fingerpaint? One might ask what all of this has to do with honey-making? However, when walking through the universe of smells, sounds, and feelings, one realises that this installation was not as much about honey-making as it was about the people that visit it. Everyone listened with their eyes closed, stroked and pushed their  fingers into the honeycombs and smelled the scents around them. It evoked sensations that many could only describe as “different.” A “touchy-feely kind of thing” which could not be captured easily into words. A teenage boy comments on his headphone experience: “It was really satisfying to hear all the bees and the guy who was talking. […] It was like you were in the situation even though you were just standing there with some headphones on.” Listening to the sound recording created the sense of “being in nature” and “being in the moment.” It re-questioned our connection to nature and our senses. Touching the honey-combs also challenged their relationship with nature’s materials: “It was a different feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. I expected it to be really tough material but when I pushed it, I almost pushed all the way through.”

The alternative and non-visual sensations that the installation evoked made visitors think about their relationship to the materials and environments in which bees produce their honey. Through emphasising their sensory experience, visitors in this installation became aware of how they as humans take part in a system. A man wipes off the paint of his finger and becomes aware of his part in honey-making: “The whole situation with the painting and the fingers, it shows how many people show interest in this area and for planting flowers to help the bees.”

Honey is Something We Make Together shows how getting in touch with our senses and embodied forms of knowledge can serve as a means to explore our role in honey-making and our role as self-declared humans in our urban environment at large. For now, we will have to sit through winter to see the planted flower bulbs grow. In spring, however, the crocuses that appear on rooftops, in gardens, meadows and parks will show how humans have a crucial part in how honey is made. The man who was looking honey for left the installation. What he didn’t know was that a taste of the result of this great co-creative honey-making process was waiting for him in the Bybi shop just a few steps away.

A Sonic and Sensory Installation on Honey Making

2019-10-10 by Melissa Van Drie | Comments Off on A Sonic and Sensory Installation on Honey Making

DATE/PLACE:
Friday, October 11, 2019 / On Vester Voldgade, right next to Rådhuspladsen, Copenhagen, DK.
15:00-00:00

ORGANISERS:
Melissa van Drie, ‘Sounds Delicious’ Project (Arts & Culture, University of Copenhagen) / Oliver Maxwell, BYBI Honey / Katrine Friss, BYBI Honey / Mia Fryk, Architect.

ABSTRACT:
The ‘Sounds Delicious’ Project (University of Copenhagen) and Bybi (Copenhagen’s urban honey producer) have teamed up to create a magical universe where bees, people and flowers communicate through sound, colour, smell, taste and feeling. Visitors to this enchanted honey factory will use their senses to explore how different species interact, to imagine connections in nature, and to understand how honey is something we make together. Highlights include sound field recordings of queen bees and an archive of the seasons shown in honey. It’s kid-friendly and part of the C40 Mayor’s Summit ‘Live like tomorrow.’

LINK TO EVENT:
https://www.facebook.com/events/vester-voldgade-1552-k%C3%B8benhavn-v-danmark/the-magical-urban-honey-factory/901361503598422/

 

 

SOUND IN MOTION

2019-03-27 by Carla J. Maier | Comments Off on SOUND IN MOTION

DATE/PLACE:
September 20. & 21., 2019 / University of Bern, Switzerland
Institute of Musicology / Institute of History, Department of Iberian and Latin American History

ORGANISERS:
James Barber / Andrin Uetz / Dianne Violeta Mausfeld / Victor de Souza Soares

ABSTRACT:
The interconnectedness between sound and space has been object of ongoing scholarly discussion. While musical disciplines have focused on contemporary processes of displacement and international migration, soundscape studies have, from its very origins, researched the intimate bonds between the sonic environment and the quality of human life.

This 2-day workshop aims to discuss issues of sound and space in its broadest sense, by bringing together scholars from various disciplinary traditions. In this sense, we kindly welcome paper contributions on the issues of sounding and listening practices in relation to human mobility, space occupation, (de)territorialization and migration.

CONFIRMED KEYNOTES:
Prof. Dr. Michael Bull, University of Sussex
Dr. Andrew J. Eisenberg, NYU Abu Dhabi
Dr. Jason Stanyek, University of Oxford

TECHNICALITIES:
Please submit your abstract with a maximum of 250 words, as well as a one-sentence biography to Dianne Violeta Mausfeld (dianne.mausfeld@hist.unibe.ch) no later than May 15th 2019.

Please find the full CfP here: CfP Workshop Sound in Motion – University of Bern

New Questions, New Objects

2018-11-27 by Lotta Vuorio | Comments Off on New Questions, New Objects

Recently I was delighted to attend the yearly IKK conference of the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies (IKK) at the University of Copenhagen. The conference was called “Cultural Analysis” and was organized by professors Holger Schulze, Isak Winkel Holm and Morten Michelsen who offered topics for three panel discussion that formed the core of the conference: New Engagements, New Frameworks and New Objects. This IKK conference proposed the term “cultural analysis” as “a starting point for a common endeavor across the individual disciplines”.

CulturalAnalysis1

I was especially curious about the topic of New Objects in Cultural Analysis and was left wondering about precisely that aspect after the conference as well. What actually are the New Objects and how could we approach them? Are they tangible or intangible? Do they exist already or do we have to create them? Is it a matter of matter or plainly a new framework for research? For me, the conference as a whole demonstrated that New Objects are in a sense a combination of all above.

Personally, I am used to approach Cultural Analysis from the position of my own background in Cultural History. The history of writing history documents fairly concretely the various changes and approaches taking place in research; consequently research is, in my opinion, never free from the interests of its time. Research in the discipline of history – where I come from – has floated in the past from writing about authorities and state politics to an approach closer to personal, social and cultural history. This shift mirrors the widely articulated need to hear new voices and their stories. However, the main starting point for any research remains and begins with being curious and wanting to know: what do we want to know and why? This question values the purpose of the research and defines what actually are the objects worth to be studied.

This question then leads to my main point here regarding New Objects. I suggest that what specifies new objects for our research is not the objects as such – but the questions that we bring to them which thus bring them up to the stage. In other words, the actual objects do not need to be something new – rather, the questions themselves are. They reflect our new interests and topics we want to know more about. This desire to know lets then new questions arise.

New questions hence function also as a consolation why cultural historians will never need to worry about running out of objects to study. In most of the cases, I would argue, research in history tends to twirl a lot around the same objects by simply posing new questions again and again to them. The long history of warfare is a classical example for this: no matter how much World Wars of the 20th century have been analysed and examined they have not become irrelevant as objects of research. On the contrary, they stay steadily in fashion thanks to the ever-new questions scholars have proposed to them.

So, at this moment, it seems to me that what is new in cultural analysis is indeed an interest in specific things that have been judged irrelevant before, for a longer time in research history: aspects of sensuality, personal experiences and narratives behind previous authorities and conventions of research are now on the table. In this conference at the department, we had for instance one insightful example of the sound of butter making, presented us by postdoc Melissa Van Drie. Her work at the intersection of food and sound studies crosses boundaries and necessitates new approaches and ways of doing. This characteristic new curiosity towards everyday life, materiality, actions and agency makes us want to know more. In this way, we realise that there is actually a need for research that further makes these new objects interesting and valuable to dig deeper into.

To conclude, New Objects are as a matter of fact tightly connected to the New Frameworks of cultural analysis. By raising the questions that touch on hitherto inexperienced areas of research, scholars need to find ways and concepts to explore them. As a methodological practice, this creates and designates the objects of study yet more. The practice of contesting the old and asking new questions is the actual object that has changed and characterises cultural analysis. As our interests transform and shift their shape furthermore, also this transformation will change again in future research. The relevance of New Objects lies in these new questions, as I see it: how could we know more and utilise cultural analysis even further if we do not know how to ask?

Notes on a Silent Meal II

2018-11-12 by Holger Schulze | Comments Off on Notes on a Silent Meal II

Last week I had the honour of partaking for the third time at a so-called Silence Meal, a performance by artist Nina Backman. This time the meal was part of the Jazzfest Berlin, in the main building of the Berliner Festspiele on November 4th, 2018 – and for the very first time not as a dinner, but as a lunch. On top, this Silence Meal was not on invitation only, like most of the earlier ones, but any curious and adventurous person could purchase a ticket for this meal.

20181104_124009

These meals are a core element in Backman’s ongoing artistic work called The Silence Project – including exhibitions, events, public lectures and artist talks. With these elements she works on »the traditional Finnish concept of ›freedom to roam‹ or ›everyman’s right‹ jokamiehenoikeus that allows free access to forests, waterways and the right to collect natural products, regardless of ownership of land.« To experience silence and to roam in silence is for her one crucial if not existential ›everyman’s right‹. Backman has been working on this project since 2013.

Again, like in 2016, I allowed myself during this meal to take some notes on what I could observe – in the behaviour of others as well as in my own drifting sensibility, in my inclinations and inhibitions in this situation of eating four courses with a larger number of other guests in radical and unfamiliar silence. The courses had been provided this time by Culinarium. And these are the 6 notes – in German as I wrote them (and below translated into English):

​Beim Servieren der Gänge und beim Einschenken der Getränke steht das Personal mehr im Mittelpunkt der gesamten Aufmerksamkeit aller Gäste als gewohnt: Die wohltrainierte Performance des Personals wird sehr sichtbar.

Die “Krugenden Krüge” (Karin Deckner)

Ab dem zweiten Gang, ab dem Hauptgang, beginnen die humorigen Spiele mit Gläsern, Besteck, Klängen. Das zweite oder dritte Glas Wein hilft.

Im Hauptgang versenkte ich mich unwillkürlich in einige Gedanken zu künftigen Vorhaben und vergangenen Begegnungen.

Der immer wieder neu begonnene Reigen des Anstoßens der Gläser.

*

When serving the courses and pouring the drinks, the staff is more the focus of the overall attention of all guests than usual: the well-trained performance of the staff becomes very visible.

The “Mugging Jugs” (Karin Deckner)

From the second course onwards, from the main course onwards, the humorous games begin with glasses, cutlery and sounds. The second or third glass of wine helps.

During the main course I involuntarily immerse myself in some thoughts about future endeavours and past encounters.

The round dance of the glasses touching and sounding that started over and over again.

Continue reading: The first 11 Notes on a Silent Meal from 2016.

Hearing in situation

2018-11-05 by Holger Schulze | Comments Off on Hearing in situation

(english translation of an article by Holger Schulze: Hören in Situation. Zur Anthropologie der relationalen Klangwahrnehmung, in: Nadin Deventer & Thomas Oberender (eds.), Now This Means War. Magazin zum Jazzfest Berlin 1.-4. November 2018, Berliner Festspiele Berlin, S. 28-30)

Hören in Situation

Hearing is not absolute. It is a sensory function that always unfolds within a particular, materially concrete situation – and is accordingly informed and shaped by the existing, past or anticipated conditions. Hearing is relational. As I am writing these lines, I am sitting in my office in Copenhagen. The morning is pervaded by August’s residual warmth; there was a little rain yesterday and the usual smell of petrichor is still rising from the asphalt. My skin, particularly on my lower arms and legs, is still simmering from the heat of the past weeks, I am still carrying this warmth inside me, as well as an easier, much less tense, softer body awareness from the heat-soaked nights and days. I am hearing now, from this situation that I find myself in. This specific situation, the material physicality and the individual self-concept as a hearer, these constitute the three formants of hearing: They predetermine, condition, inspire, modify and transform how you and I are willing or able to hear within a given situation.

The specific situation

The hearing situation is infinitely specific. It realises itself in myriad details: Do I hear a musical performance in my own or someone else’s living room, maybe at a gallery, a church or a hair salon? Are you getting settled into seat 16 of row 12 of the local festival venue’s great hall or are you hearing a performance beneath the stage, at a jazz club that has been open for a quarter of a century or more than nine decades; or in a bar that is only seeing its second or third autumn? The manners of hearing differ, at times radically, depending on all the materials, temporalities and usages of making and listening to music that are embedded in the locality. The specific hearing situation is informed on the one hand by the arrangement of the location’s technical apparatus (speakers, reflectors, musical and non-musical sound sources, fixed positions of sitting or standing, bar service, tables, seating rows etc. etc.), on the other by our own practised habits of usage, of movement, previous experiences, memories, by our digressions. The so-called technical dispositifs predetermine the framework and the limits within which you and I test, unfold, develop and play out our personal, often idiosyncratic, intimate and at times whimsical hearing practises. This situation co-determines whether I experience a sound, a performance or a constellation of noises as harmonious, unlocking, maybe even inspiring – or rather as disconcerting, excluding or off-putting. Listeners are much less than they would like to think completely independent and objective hearing entities who decide on the quality and pleasure, approval or rejection of a sound composition regardless of their own personal situation. It requires a trained and sophisticated capacity for abstraction to not judge an aural impression mainly and entirely according to the situational conditions, the material physicality and the individual self-concept. Not uncommonly, the idiosyncratic is then posited as objectivistic. More than anything, I hear my own origins, my mood, my remanence and ambition, thus: the relational determinations made by this situation here and now, my fatigue or alertness, my personal well-being or discomfort, consumption of drugs or narcotics, my heatedness in new social constellations or unfamiliar smells, materials or social graces. Conversely, I may have heard this contrabass-solo many times – but it is only during the performance at this concert venue, at this time, on this particular day of the year, with a particular readiness to hear on my part primed by previous conversations, previous activities and my personal mood, through the material constellations at this specific location as well as the specific virtuosity and performance energy of the musicians: All these forces render it possible for me to all at once appreciate and enjoy this musical sequence and finally truly grasp its qualities, its effect. I understand this piece. Perhaps I understand the piece better now if I’ve previously heard it many times on concert stages and grand halls – and now I hear it in a living room with quite a different auditive arrangement, in a sacred space or a venue for dance? A drink in hand, wandering around, chatting, flirting and negotiating – or while having erstwhile entered into meditative contemplation, stuck in my seat at the concert hall, in the masochistic relish of this physical immovability, combined with sensory-perceptive ecstasy? Such changes of location are changes of perception: Changes of body and sound.

Continue reading: Hearing in Situation: On the anthropology of relational sound perception

Experiencing Soundwalking

2018-10-29 by Lotta Vuorio | 1 Comment

Taking steps on different grounds that make different sounds. Keeping the silence in a large group that wanders around parts of Christiania in Copenhagen. Being in the moment, as you have no other choice than walk and listen to it.

Sound Forms Symposium4

Recently, I had the pleasure to attend a soundwalk which was part of Sound Forms, a 3-day experiential symposium that took place in Copenhagen 11th – 13th of October. Canadian composer, radio artist, and sound ecologist Hildegard Westerkamp herself introduced the idea of soundwalking – that she developed with other members of the World Soundscape Project in the 1970s, in Vancouver – to the participants of the symposium. Our soundwalking experience carried the title “Soundwalking to the Rhythm of Listening”, and it included the soundwalk itself and the post-walk discussion. In short, ‘a soundwalk is any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment’ (Westerkamp 2007: 49). For me, personally, the experience of soundwalking was totally new and the idea of listening to places and environments was fascinating from the start.

At first, nevertheless, the idea of being silent for an hour walk felt rather frightening and scary. What if I do not know how to listen to the environment? After all, one of the brightest insights when experiencing soundwalking was facing my modern urban lifestyle and its conventions: If being silent only for an hour felt so overwhelming, maybe I should have actually been doing it more often already?

The soundwalk started from Rytmisk Musikkkonservatorium, and in a group of about 50 people we followed Hildegard Westerkamp and her Danish assistant Lasse Romer who had both developed this route the day before. During the walk, we had the chance to listen to very different sounds from stepping on the rocks to leaves in the wind and driving cars. The sounds we heard belonged to everyday life but, all the same, I approached them now in a deviant way. I relocated the sounds from the background noise to the centre of my mind and concentration. During the walk, I managed to explore them curiously, with less and less expectations.

However, I did not succeed in keeping the focus exclusively on sounds for the whole hour – as I supposed this was the purpose of the walk. It resembled a form of meditation when one realises how thoughts come and go, and the world and its sounds stay there regardless of all my thoughts. At any given point during this walk, I had again and again the option to return to all the sounds around us – and they welcomed me, with open arms. The sounds occurred and they passed the same way as my thoughts did.

It was intriguing to discover that by paying attention to individual sounds, the other senses were enhanced as well. Suddenly, I could smell the crispy autumn forest and I could see tiny details I did not notice before; I could feel, very intensively, all the effects of my movements. Even though I expected to be a silent walker, I was not. The silence I thought to be confronted with during the soundwalk turned out to be a grand opening to the rich world of the senses: the senses that anatomically and culturally constitute me as a person, but that I had the chance to discover differently now.

Sound Forms Symposium1

So, I realised I could confirm one expectation I had at the beginning of this walk: Soundwalking can indeed be a way to deepen one’s relationship to any place or spatial environment. Unlike my fears and anxieties beforehand, I found out that especially the supposed silence does not need to be reacted to with stress – conversely, the sounds around us can be seen as a sensory playground to explore lively and openly instead. For me, soundwalking represented a moment of calm and focusing meditation in the middle of a hectic everyday life. Luckily, soundwalking can be done alone or in a group, wherever and whenever: so, I actually expect to experience it soon again.

References:
Westerkamp, Hildegard: Soundwalking. Published in: Autumn Leaves, Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practice. Paris 2007. Online Source: Soundwalking by Hildegard Westerkamp Referred to 19.10.2018.

Photos: Jenny Gräf Sheppard

Sonic Exercises

2018-10-23 by Lotta Vuorio | 3 Comments

Have you ever thought about speaking aloud or singing as active exercises for strengthening the body? This was a commonly shared supposition amongst physicians in 19th century Britain where physical education gradually took its shape during the century. Physicians took part to the conversation of physical education and the urgent need of it, and suggested different scientifically proved forms of exercises in order to make people healthier and happier.

Visual instructions to one of the exercises. Roth 1851, 201.

Visual instructions to one of the exercises. Roth 1851: 201.

The concept of ‘exercise’ and ‘movement’ did not, however, follow conventions that we would nowadays recognise through our understanding of sports. Instead, the concepts were based on the contemporary physiology that included various vocal and sounding practises which were connected to the embodiment of sounds. In my current research I approach those practises through the work of British physician Mathias Roth (1818-1891) who introduced several practical exercises for curing and strengthening the body, and which had something to do with sounds. I am going to call those practises ‘sonic exercises’ and show how they were considered similarly as ‘movement’ as other more traditional, and for us more recognisable, forms of exercises.

As ‘movement’, in general, was regarded any action or motion that increased the supposed circulation of vital energy in the body. This ‘vital energy’ was also called ‘animal heat’ or just ‘energy’. This energy was considered the element that marked the difference between animate and inanimate, and thus it was also considered the main element of human vitality and performance. As a result, physical educators and physicians in 19th century Britain tried to invent exercises for increasing the circulation of vital energy since it was the element that had to be taken care of for achieving health.

How had sounding then anything to do with these kinds of exercises? Making sound was considered as an embodied practice since it required muscular action, such as activity of abdominal muscles. Also the diaphragm, the chest, the stomach and the organs of respiration took part in the process of sounding, as it was proven and documented in then-contemporary medicine. Hence, sounds did not appear out of nowhere but were the result of embodied effort that could be trained through exercises.

In the health guide called “The Prevention and Cure of Many Chronic Diseases by Movement” from 1851, Mathias Roth introduced readers to different kinds of exercises that should cure one’s diseases. Several of these exercises indeed follow my definition of sonic exercises; according to Roth, those sonic exercises would cure or affect surprisingly many diseases. Generally, sonic exercises were based either on strengthening the abdominal muscles, the chest, and ‘the organs of voice’, or on expanding the lungs. For example, a lateral curvature of spine, ‘in which the convexity of the upper curvature is to the right’ (Roth 1851: 252), could be cured by resting on the right side while reading aloud or singing. For doing so, the left lung would be more activated and consequently would diminish the hypertrophy of the right lung.

An alternative exercise for strenghtening and expanding the chest. Roth 1851: 201.

An alternative exercise for strenghtening and expanding the chest. Roth 1851: 201.

Sonic exercises did not only cure bodily deformities but were also helpful with in curing tuberculosis, inflammation of the larynx and windpipe, or promoting digestion. Besides speaking or reading aloud and singing, blowing the flute and sounding of the trumpet were considered as efficient exercises as they increased the capacity of lungs and strengthened the chest. Still, one has to remember that sonic exercises were not the only options for curing these diseases, but they functioned as optional exercises: for strengthening the chest or expanding the lungs, pumping and horse riding are mentioned in Roth’s book, for instance, as well.

Another typical sonic exercise was the so-called “curative method by music”. As Roth describes, ‘the tune, which is but the name of a vibration produced by the air on our auditive nerve, is very important in the cure of deafness, because this nerve is particularly disposed to become paralysed by inattention and disuse’ (ibid. 73). The common law of vital energy of the period designated that in whatever body part there was activity, there would also be development. That is why sonic exercises, like any other of the exercises, focused on activating the body parts that were otherwise neglected or undeveloped.

Music was likewise recommended for mental illness, such as hypochondriasis and depression, and Sydenham’s chorea, known as St. Vitus dance in which the patient moved rapidly, uncontrollably, and reluctantly. More specifically, beating the drum or ringing the church bells were preferred and recommended methods for calming the mind and reluctant movements. Accordingly, sonic exercises were not only for making sounds but also for listening to them: the body responded to both methods, which is why sounds in either way had their desirable, healing effect.

Altogether, sonic exercises were as much embodied exercises and movement as other recommended movements for cure in 19th century Britain. For strengthening one’s body, it was not necessary to lift heavy weights or run a mile, but to make or listen to sounds instead. So, next time you are singing in the shower or reading aloud for your children, consider it as an active exercise that will make your abdominal muscles fit, your chest stronger, and, all told, improve your health.

References:

Roth, Mathias: The Prevention and Cure of Many Chronic Diseases by Movements. An Exposition of the Principles and Practice by These Movements for the Correction of the Tendencies to Disease in Infancy, Childhood, and Youth, and for the Cure of Many Morbid Affections of Adults. John Churchill. London 1851.