Gavin Steingo

Interspecies Communication: Sound and Music Beyond Humanity

February 13, 2024 (Tuesday) — 5:15 PM to 7:00 PM
Lerner Center
Penn Music Building
201 S. 34th Street, Room 101

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This talk offers a précis of Steingo's new book, Interspecies Communication: Sound and Music Beyond Humanity (University of Chicago Press)In the book, he examines significant cases of attempted communication beyond the human—cases in which the dualistic relationship of human to non-human is dramatically challenged. From singing whales to Sun Ra to searching for alien life, Steingo charts the many ways we have attempted to think about, and indeed to reach, beings that are very unlike ourselves. He focuses on the second half of the twentieth century, when scientists developed new ways of listening to oceans and cosmic space—two realms previously inaccessible to the senses and to empirical investigation. As quintessential frontiers of the postwar period, the outer space of the cosmos and the inner space of oceans were conceptualized as parallel realities, laid bare by newly technologized “ears.” Interspecies Communication explores our attempts to cross the border between the human and non-human, to connect with non-humans in the depths of the oceans, the far reaches of the universe, or right under our own noses.


Gavin Steingo is Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Music at Princeton University, where he is also affiliated with the programs in Media and Modernity, African Studies, and Jazz Studies. His first book, Kwaito’s Promise: Music and the Aesthetics of Freedom in South Africa (Chicago, 2016), was awarded the Alan P. Merriam prize by the Society for Ethnomusicology. He co-editor of the volume, Remapping Sound Studies (Duke, 2019), as well as of the book series, “Critical Conjunctures in Music and Sound” (OUP). Gavin recently completed a new book titled, Interspecies Communication: Sound and Music Beyond Humanity (Chicago, 2024)He composes music, and plays guitar for the group Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves.


This lecture is part of the 2023-24 Penn Music Colloquium Series. The Department of Music's main Colloquium Series showcases new research by leading scholars in music and sound studies and composers both in the United States and internationally.  All Music Colloquia will take place in Room 101 of the Lerner Center on Tuesdays at 5:15 PM.