2019-2020 Penn Colloquium Series: Stefan Helmreich

Stefan Helmreich
Mar 17, 2020 at - | Lerner 102 Music Department

Stefan Helmreich


The Department of Music’s main Colloquium Series showcases new research by leading scholars across the fields of musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory, and composition both in the United States and internationally.  Music Colloquia take place on Tuesdays at 5:15 in Lerner Center, Room 102.  The Lerner Center is located at  201 S. 34th Street, Philadelphia Pa, 19104-6313. See here for the full calendar of the 2019-2020 Colloquia Series.

Stefan Helmreich

Professor and Elting E. Morison Chair; Head, Anthropology; Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Listening to Waves: Tuning to Cosmic, Oceanic, and Sociogenic Noise, Sound, and Music

What sorts of noises, sounds, and musics do waves —those undulating patterns that suggest anticipations of arrival and echoing repetition —make? This paper audits three genres of wave phenomena, asking how they are brought into audibility, sense, and, sometimes, music. The first is to do with gravitational waves, the first signs of which arrived at Earth in 2016, when a “chirp” captured by theLaser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory disclosed the space-time warping effects of two black holes colliding some1.4 billion light-years away. The second is to do with sound of crashing ocean waves, as audited for signs of climate change by hydrophones off the coast of California —sounds that open up questions of how to sort through such “noise” for meaning; in reflecting on scientists’ approach to that sorting, the talk mobilizes a capsule history of attempts to bring ocean waves into musical representation, from Debussy to Drexciya. The third genre of wave phenomena is that which gathers up the sounds of social agitation, in the sounds of crowds, left and right —at, for example, the 2017 Women’s March and at Trump rallies —listening to these for what they communicate about publics and their discontents in troubled times. The talk concludes with reflections on how the sounds and musics of waves emerge from the technical, historical, and semiotic frames that make them audible in the first place.


Event Series
Penn Music Colloquium Series