Media @ McGill

Sound, Vision, Action





Sound, Vision, Action puts contemporary art and scholarship in sound studies and visual culture in direct dialogue around questions of power and politics.

The Sound Vision Action videos are now available (for the most complete viewing and audio experience, you will need to use the software called Silverlight. For those using a Linux operating system see instructions).


Today, we live in an age of unprecedented visual and sonic saturation. Although philosophers, artists, critics and censors have always argued for the power of sounds and images and their attendant senses, the last half-century has seen a major shift in how we talk about them, as scholars have systematically made the case for understanding modern power relations in terms of seeing and hearing, sounds and images. For instance, Michel Foucault’s figures of the panopticon and the confessional (Foucault 1977, 1978) showed how relations of seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard, were intimately connected to modern forms of power; Laura Mulvey (Mulvey 1975) analyzed the gaze as a way of explaining male domination; and Jacques Derrida’s concept of the metaphysics of presence (Derrida 1976) put fantasies about the voice and hearing at the very centre of Western thought. Writers and practitioners who followed in their steps developed these questions and extended them to new areas of inquiry, including colonialism (Tomlinson 2007; Mirzoeff 2011), media (Kittler 1985; Crary 2001), science and technology (Galison 1994; Canales 2009), historiography (Smith 2008), and performance (Carter 1992; Auslander 1999). They also coined new terms, like “visuality” and “visual culture,” to describe at once the systems of seeing and being seen, images and their modes of production and circulation, and the broader fields of relations in which all of these things were embedded (Mirzoeff 2009; Jones 2010; Mirzoeff 2012). Scholars of sound followed suit with terms like “aurality” and “sound culture” (Bull and Back 2003; Hilmes 2005; Pinch and Bijsterveld 2011; Sterne 2012; Born 2013).

Today, it is time to reassess these trends. Where the last generation of philosophers was writing in a context shaped by the various political upheavals around 1968 (Foucault and Deleuze 1977), our conceptions of power must make sense of the various transformations and uprisings of the last decade, associated with the processes of globalization (Hardt and Negri 2005). Where the post-1968 writers conceived of looking and listening in a world filled with televisions, movies, records and newspapers (Hall 1980), we confront an unprecedented torrent of images and sounds from all directions. Where they lived in a world where images and sounds were produced in radically different contexts and with radically different skill sets, we live in a world of convergence and aesthetic cross-fertilization. Where they worried about access to the means of media production, today we assume broad access to the means of production, and must account for the blurring of boundaries between production, circulation and consumption. Now, we worry about access to and the consequences of the means of circulation—from the use of social media by governments and activists alike; to the widespread appropriation and recirculation of existing images and sounds; scholars’ newfound ability to produce and disseminate visually and sonically rich scholarship; and new machinic forms of hearing and seeing (Terranova 2004; Sinnreich 2010; Svensson 2012; boyd and Crawford 2012).

Following their philosophical forbearers, sound studies and visual culture have honed in on a single modality—visuality, aurality—as a pathway to cultural analysis. In recent years, scholarship on visuality and aurality has had very fertile encounters with trends like the new materialism (Goodman 2010; Chun 2011), and humanists’ appropriation of new work in neuroscience (Hansen 2006). While these developments are quite intellectually promising, they tend to sidestep questions of power and politics. We also know of no major conference or collection that puts contemporary scholarship in sound studies and visual culture in direct dialogue. Sound, Vision, Action thus aims to provide a platform to start that discussion, but also aims to bring both fields back to the questions of power that initially oriented them. Against the background of new political, technical, mediatic and cultural realities, Sound, Vision, Action interrogates the very meaning of our most saturated senses, from live performances and face-to-face encounters, to shared experience at a distance, to machinic practices to which users delegate their senses.

Consistent with Media@McGill’s focus on “Media, the Senses and Sensibilities” in 2014-2015, the Sound, Vision, Action colloquium addresses the history, problems and possibilities of sound and images: for instance, how the circulation of images and sounds from distant places may foster connections between people or stir up conflict; how hearing and seeing are implicated in surveillance and softer forms of power; and how new developments in art, activism, computer science, music, performance, and historical practice might help to transform our sonic and visual cultures in new and productive ways.

By bringing together interdisciplinary practices in visual culture and sound studies, and situating them in relationship to fields like science and technology studies, history, literature, music, art, and media studies, Sound, Vision, Action examines the relationships between diverse technologies and techniques that shape the torrent of images and sounds that surround us, and the everyday practices of hearing and seeing through which people engage with the world.


Auslander, Philip. 1999. Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. New York: Routledge.
Born, Georgina. 2013. Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
boyd, danah, and Kate Crawford. 2012. “Critical Questions for Big Data.” Information, Communication & Society no. 15 (5): 662-679.
Bull, Michael, and Les Back. 2003. The Auditory Culture Reader. New York: Berg.
Canales, Jimena. 2009. A Tenth of a Second: A History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Carter, Paul. 1992. The Sound In-Between: Voice, Space, Performance. Kensington: New South Wales University Press.
Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. 2011. Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Crary, Jonathan. 2001. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture. Cambridge: October Books.
Derrida, Jacques. 1976. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books.
———. 1978. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books.
Foucault, Michel, and Gilles Deleuze. 1977. “Intellectuals and Power: An Interview.” In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, edited by D.F. Bouchard, 205-217. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Galison, Peter. 1994. “The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision.” Critical Inquiry no. 21 (2):228-266.
Goodman, Steve. 2010. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Hall, Stuart. 1980. “Encoding/Decoding.” In Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies 1972-9, edited by Stuart Hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis, 128-138. London: Hutchinson.
Hansen, Mark B. N. 2006. Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media. New York: Routledge.
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2005. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Books.
Hilmes, Michelle. 2005. “Is There a Field Called Sound Culture Studies? And Does It Matter?” American Quarterly no. 57 (1):249-259.
Jones, Amelia. 2010. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge.
Kittler, Friedrich. 1985. Discourse Networks, 1800/1900. Translated by Michael Metteer and Cris Cullens. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Mirzoeff, Nicholas. 2009. An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Routledge.
———. 2011. The Right To Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality. Durham: Duke University Press.
———. 2012. The Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge.
Mulvey, Laura. 1975. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen no. 16 (3):6-18.
Pinch, Trevor, and Karin Bijsterveld. 2011. The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sinnreich, Aram. 2010. Mashed Up: Music, Technology and the Rise of Configurable Culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Sterne, Jonathan. 2012. MP3: The Meaning of a Format. Durham: Duke University Press.
———. 2012. The Sound Studies Reader. New York: Routledge.
Svensson, Patrik. 2012. “Envisioning the Digital Humanities.” Digital Humanities Quarterly no. 6 (1).
Terranova, Tiziana. 2004. Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London: Pluto Press.
Tomlinson, Gary. 2007. The Singing of the New World: Indigenous Voices in the Era of European Contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Friday, November 14, 2014

9:15-9:30: Introduction (Sterne, Mirzoeff)
9:30-11:00: Surveillance (Kaplan, Bijsterveld)
11:30-1:00: Performance (Brooks, Jones)
2:30-4:00: Militancy (Casemajor, Ultra-red)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

9:30-11:00: Humanity (Mottahedeh, Hoffman)
11:30-1:00: Capitalism (Curran, Gopinath)
2:30-3:15: Mediation (Bookchin (Born’s presentation is cancelled))
3:15-4:00: Round-up Panel (Sterne, Mirzoeff)




Hosting organization: Media@McGill

Colloquium committee and organizing team

Prof. Jonathan Sterne
Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Prof. Nick Mirzoeff
Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

Dr. Tamar Tembeck
Academic Associate, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Sophie Toupin
Project Administrator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Mary Chin
Administrative Coordinator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Caitlin Loney
Web Administrator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Mauricio Delfin
Social Media

Casey McCormick
Social Media

Media@McGill Colloquium Partners

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; McCord Museum; Dean of Arts Development Fund, Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship, Department of Art History and Communication Studies Speaker Series, Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship (CSDC), Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, James McGill Chair in Culture and Technology, Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy, McGill University; Media History Research Centre, Concordia University; The International Association for Visual Culture (IAVC); NYU Steinhardt Department of Media, Culture, and Communication