The Sonic Persona

An Anthropology of Sound


Holger Schulze, The Sonic Persona. An Anthropology of Sound, Bloomsbury Press New York 2018. 272 pages, EUR 28,99.

»From Hermann von Helmholtz to Miley Cyrus, from Fluxus to the Arab Spring, from wave field synthesis to otoacoustic emissions, from premillennial club culture to post-democratic authoritarianism, from signal processing to human echolocation:

a research expedition to the sonic personae of humanoid aliens—their sensory corpuses, their auditory dispositives, and their elaborate precision of sensibility.«

In The Sonic Persona, Holger Schulze undertakes a critical study of some of the most influential studies in sound since the 19th century in the natural sciences, the engineering sciences, and in media theory, confronting them with contemporary artistic practices, with experimental critique, and with disturbing sonic experiences.

From Hermann von Helmholtz to Miley Cyrus, from FLUXUS to the Arab Spring, from Wavefield Synthesis to otoacoustic emissions, from premillennial clubculture to postdemocratic authoritarianism, from signal processing to human echolocation: This book presents a fundamental critique concerning recent sound theories and their anthropological concepts – and proposes an alternate, a more plastic, a visceral framework for research in the field of a cultural anthropology of sounding and listening.

This anthropology of sound takes its readers and listeners on a research expedition to the multitude of alien humanoids and their surprising sonic personae: in dynamic and generative tension between predetermined auditory dispositives, miniscule and not seldomly ignored sound practices, and idiosyncratic sensory corpuses: a critique of the senses.

»I’m going to prove the impossible really exists.«

Table of Content

The materialization of sound: A research history

1 Quantifying sound

Pro tools and the phonautograph

1863: Writing Helmholtz

1929: Fletcher’s weirdness

1954: Experience by Beranek

Projections in the pavilion

2 Materializing listening

Destroying instruments, discovering ambient

1962: Sound in flux

1970: Baudry’s dispositif

2008: Beyond Aufführungspraxis

Dispositives of surround sound

3 Corporealizing the senses

Into darkness

1985: Serres’s syrrhesis

1992: Tension in Nancy

1998: Eshun and the senses

New sensory materialism

The sonic persona: An anthropology of sound

4 In auditory dispositives

The microphone as poem

Scarce signals

The Apparatus Canto

Dispositive’s capitalization


5 The sonic persona

Sonic traces

Idiosyncratic implex

The sonic persona

Varying experientiality

Anthropology of sound

6 A sensory corpus

The material percepts

Corpus in situ

A generative sensorium

Corporeal epistemologies

The listening body

The precision of sensibility: A political critique

7 The precision of sensibility


Sensory critique

Apparatuses naturalized

The precision of sensibility


8 Resistance and resonance

Zeige deine Wunden

No response

Erratic heuristics

Noise as presence

Persona resista

9 Generativity


Im Erwachten Garten

Sensory syncope

Synaptic Island


Further reading:

[To be added]