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

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

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

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

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]