Sound Works

A Cultural Theory of Sound Design


Holger Schulze, Sound Works. A Cultural Theory of Sound Design, Bloomsbury Press New York 2019. 262 pages, EUR 93,99.

Read the first chapter of Sound Works!

»This book is not a manual on sound design; it instead argues for a cultural theory of sound design for sound designers and sound artists, for clients who commission a sound design and for researchers in the fields of sound studies, design research, and cultural studies.«

What is sound design? What is its function in the early 21st century and into the future?

Sound Works examines these questions in four parts:
Part 1, “Why This Sound?”, presents an overview of the modern history of sound design.
Part 2 is highly visual and provides a glance onto a sound designer’s workbench and the current state of “Sonic Labor.”
Part 3 uses cultural analysis to explore our contemporary “Living with Sounds.”
The final and fourth part then proposes a series of anthropological and political interpretations of how “Sound Works” today.

»This book will not teach you sound design. This book, in the contrary, will let you explore the often quite disappointing and bleak labor conditions in sound design; it will allow you to explore how users of sound design live with functional sounds; in the end this book will propose an interpretation of the social, the political and anthropological effect sound design indeed has on everyday life and on contemporary cultures these days.«

Table of Content

PART A WHY THAT SOUND? Annoyance and Excitement by Design

1 Working: Functional sounds in everyday life
Everyday sounds
The dialectics of functionality
The sonic consumer
Functionality as guidance

2 Consuming: The brief history of a magic trick
The shock of sound
Magic mediation
Substantial disappointment
The decentered media

3 Suffering: On contemporary sensory deprivation
The explication of connectivity
Rigor mortis
Ideologies of efficiency
Imploding idealizations

4 Joy: Bored by tricks & the lust for excess
Sonic excess (spinning away)
Drifting, sensorially
Situations in abundance
The joy of research

PART B SONIC LABOR: Statements, Situations & Cases

With illustrations by Julia Krause

5 Location & Apparatus
Staging the startup
Private workbench
Suites of production
The big mixing desk

6 Skills & Habits
Sonic imagery
Make it fantasy!
New ear
The client whisperer

7 Conflicts & Heuristics
Ephemeral lie
Pitching detour
Design abuse
Sonic darlings

8 Portfolio & Presentations
Grey minimalism
Staging airwaves
Selling the sweat
Channeling the shaman

PART C LIVING WITH SOUND: The Semiotics and Mediology of Sonic Signs

Written in collaboration with Carla J. Maier

10 Signifying Sounds: The semiotics of functional sounds
A sonic pattern language?
Rematerializing sonic signs
The semiotics of hunting signals
Performing sonic patterns

11 Situated Signalling: Sound practices in personal situations
Singing the Signals
Situated Meaning
Sonic Technologies of the Self
Domesticating Sounds

12 Transmitting Sounds: Towards a sonic mediology
To transmit and to receive
Translating mediology
Three mediological questions
The mediology of an automotive navigation system

13 Transcultural Aurality: Decolonizing sound
Sonic stereotyping
Decolonizing sound design
The remediology of sonic labor
Towards a transcultural aurality

PART D SOUND WORKS A Cultural Theory of Sound Design

14 The Silencing Dispositive: Listening as function
Admission, presence, delivery
Controlling sound
The silencing dispositive
Functional listening

15 The Economy of Sound: A theory of sonic labor
The sonic workforce
Ambition & Exhaustion
A labor theory of sound design
Regenerative labor?

16 The Panacoustic Society: A sensology of surveillance
Ubiquitous domestication
Forces of authoritarianism
The sensology of surveillance
The panacoustic society

17 The Sound & the Situation: An anthropology of sound design
The situation of sound
Critical nanopolitics of sonic labor
Generativity, remediation, regeneration
The situation as interpreter

Further reading:

[To be added]