Skip to main content

Sonic geography

‘Sound and space: theory and methods in sonic geographical research’ symposium

26 March 2018

The Social and Cultural Geography Research Group in the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University, invites you to attend a two-day symposium titled ‘Sound and space: theory and methods in sonic geographical research’, to be held on the 5th and 6th June 2018.

Responding to the recent growth in literature that considers the various ways in which sound – both musical and non-musical – and space intersect, the symposium brings together scholars at the forefront of sonic geographical research to reflect on the current state of research, both from a theoretical and a methodological perspective. Day one will be comprised of presentations from invited speakers and space for discussion, while day two will be a sonic geography methods workshop.

Attendance is free for both days, but space is limited; please read on for more details about the two days and how to apply to attend.

Day one, 5th June 2018, 10am-6pm

Invited speakers and their abstracts for day one are as follows:

Michael Gallagher (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Experimental voice audio

This presentation makes a case for experimenting with voice audio in geographical research. It explores some affordances of working with voice audio as data rather than as a precursor to textual transcription. While voice audio can be heard representationally, the paper explores how it can be used more-than-representationally in ways that productively disrupt dominant paradigms of voice: by propagating voices as vibration, experimenting with the machinic media ecologies that constitute voice, and rewiring the relations between voice, space and place. Voice audio can undo the ties that bind voice to humanist subjects and their acoustic milieus. It can spatially dislocate and relocate voice in ways that are geographically generative. I draw on examples of experimental styles of voice audio that maximise these disruptive affordances, including voice manipulation, cut-up editing and contrapuntal polyphony.

Kate Moles (Cardiff University)

Sounding the Way: Wandering, Playfulness and City Spaces

In this paper, I reflect on a series of audio walks I co-produced with young people in Grangetown, Cardiff. I have previously thought about how these audio walks, with their messy narratives and non-linear markers, produce a particular interaction with the places they navigate their listeners through (Moles and Saunders, 2016). I want to develop these ideas and consider how these walks could be seen as part of a different sort of engagement with the public, city spaces they are part of and help produce. To do this, I turn to ideas of wanderability and the potential audio walks/drifts (Gallagher, 2015) have for reconfiguring and reanimating concretised, planned and predictable movements and paths through cityscapes. I consider how wayfaring through the city using alternative means, thinking about spaces as palimpsests of past and present, and the roving, uncertain mobilities of these audio walks allow us to reimagine these spaces and the ways people interaction with and in them.

Linda O’Keeffe (Lancaster University)

The Sound Wars: Silencing the Working Class Soundscape of Smithfield

The concept of sounds associated with a social class is not new, Emily Thompson and Hillel Schwartz both present historical evidence of the segregation of communities because of the soundscapes they produced, from ancient Greece where noise was often linked with production, madness, and poverty, and was often used as a method for the segregation and suppression of certain groups, to New York City where anti noise campaigns, led by the upper classes, have fought historically for the suppression of unnecessary noise. However, contemporary classifications of noise as a quantifiable and verifiable phenomenon in cities have created what seems like an unambiguous and non-judgmental critique of sound pollution based on statistics. This suggests that we have progressed from the classification of loud sounds as associated with social classes to one connected to pollution.

In this paper I expand on a body of work conducted between 2009 and 2014, which examined the social construction of urban soundscapes in the Smithfield are of Dublin city, Ireland. The research was conducted with a group of participants, 84 teenagers and 5 older adults. These participants helped identify, through a series of research methods, concepts and ideas about the meaning of noise and sound and how certain sounds are often linked to social class.

Jonathan Prior (Cardiff University)

Sonic geography in the archives: Listening to The British Library’s Wildlife & Environmental Sounds collection

Archival research is an important geographical methodology, particularly for historical geographers; there are now emerging signs that geographers are attending to multimedia archives, such as sound archives (e.g. Lorimer 2007 and Mills 2017). In this talk, I seek to contribute to such work, through undertaking a preliminary analysis of The British Library’s Wildlife & Environmental Sounds collection, a constituent of the Library’s internationally renowned sound archive of more than six million sound recordings. I do so primarily through a reading of the Library’s now defunct in-house journal Recorded Sound (c1961-1984), founded by the British Institute of Recorded Sound (now reconfigured as the British Library Sound Archive) as part of their remit to ‘preserve for posterity sound recordings of all kinds.’

I consider the primary impetus to construct such an archive, the main actors involved in its (still ongoing) production and curation, and some of the geographical characteristics of the sound archive. Along the way, I reflect upon issues pertaining to the curation and preservation of audio material, some human and non-human ethical implications of sound archiving, and the changing nature of public engagements with the ever-growing sound archive.

George Revill (Open University)

Speaking for the environment? Experiments with ‘sonic democracy’ on the North Norfolk Coast (UK)

This paper addresses some conceptual, methodological and practical issues associated with a project inviting local and concerned publics to explore coastal change through sound. The project develops a series of workshops, live performances of original music, radio broadcasts, sonic exhibitions and a film installation working with both historical and newly developed material to inform the development of a sonic coastal plan for the Blakeney area in North Norfolk (UK). The main project partners are the National Trust, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk Coast Partnership. The North Norfolk coast is a region of low lying sandy cliffs, dunes, mudflats, creeks, fresh and salt water marshes. It is subject to regular inundation from storms resulting in vulnerable changing and increasingly volatile coast line and habitats.

The paper builds on work around the politics of sound (Revill 2016) and geographies of voice (Revill 2017). As a contention, it takes seriously Latour’s argument for ‘a parliament of things’ (1991, 2004). It explores how and to what extent sound is able to juxtapose human, nonhuman and environmental ‘voices’ in a shared space and interrogate its form of meaningful communication between social and natural worlds. The paper takes Harries (2013) conception of the ‘open work’ as a starting point for a critical exploration of creative sonic politics.

Marie Thompson (University of Lincoln)

Sonic Affects and Aesthetic Moralism

In this talk, I consider the relation between sound’s affective capacities and what I refer to as ‘aesthetic moralism’. I demonstrate how aesthetic moralism shapes the soundscape of the revanchist city with the use of music as an audio-affective deterrent. I also examine the underlying aesthetic moralism of certain strands of acoustic ecology and their equation of noise with toxicity, pollution and destruction; and, by extension, quietude with desirability, order and wellbeing. I consider the implications of these examples for analysing sound’s affectivity, cautioning that while sonic affects might be predictable, sonic geographers need to remain wary of the determinism aesthetic moralism assumes.


Attendance for day one is capped at 30 people. Attendance is free, and lunch will be provided for all attendees. If you would like to attend day one, please email Mark Jayne ( and Jonathan Prior (

Day two, 6th June 2018, 10am-6pm

Day two of the symposium will be a hands-on sonic geography methods workshop, that will focus on audio recording techniques (recording, editing, and disseminating audio material). Led by Jonathan Prior, the workshop component of the symposium is aimed at those who are interested in using audio recording within their research, whether this is field recording, voice recording, or the production of an academic podcast. Attendees will have the opportunity to use a range of different audio equipment, and get to grips with editing audio material. Please note that this is an introductory workshop, and is thus not suitable for those who already have experience with audio recording.


Attendance for day two is capped at 20 people. Attendance is free, and lunch will be provided for all attendees. If you would like to attend day two, please email Mark Jayne ( and Jonathan Prior ( In your email, please clearly outline in no more that 250 words your motivations for attending the methods workshop and how the skills you will gain through attendance will benefit your work.