Questions of sound, or the acoustic, have recently emerged as a central concern in a wide range of disciplines from film studies, contemporary art, and art history to architecture, cultural studies and the history of science and technology, not to mention music. From the initial controversies around sampling to the more recent juridical battles surrounding Napster, sound has become the field onto which key anxieties and hopes about the cultural consequences of significant economic and technological shifts (globalism, digitization, data culture) have been focused.
In order to understand the complex role of the acoustic within histories of (post-) modernity, the program seminar examined it in terms of issues such as: the particular non-phenomenal materiality of the acoustic; technologies of production, transmission, and reception; the geo-political roles and uses of sonic materials and broadcasting; and the dynamics of social and individual modalities of sonic experience. To what extent, for example, can one speak of a history of listening? Just as in film studies a renewed attention to the soundtrack (as in the work of Michel Chion and Kaja Silverman) has disrupted a longstanding myopic privileging of the image, the acoustic has also served as an epistemological challenge to the theoretical hegemony of certain models of 'representation' (e.g. Adorno, Lyotard, Deleuze). It is this complex and particularly disruptive status of the acoustic across a wide range of disciplines that was the focus of the Program in Media and Modernity for the 2002-3 academic year.