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Lecture | The 6th Adriaan Gerbrands Lecture

Hearing Heat: An Anthropocene Acoustemology

  • Prof. dr. Steven Feld
Thursday 24 November 2016
Adriaan Gerbrands Lectures
Museum of Ethnology
Steenstraat 1
2312 BS Leiden
Grote zaal

Hearing Heat: An Anthropocene Acoustemology

Bruno Latour suggests that even if poisoned, the anthropocene is a deep gift to anthropology, challenging the field to invent new approaches to citizenship and responsibility. This lecture takes up Latour’s challenge through acoustemology, (acoustic epistemology), the study of sound as a way of knowing. I present three stories entangling cicadas and humans, poetics and politics, vocal mediation and affect. The first story utilizes ethnographic field recordings to explore the significance of singing with cicadas in Papua New Guinea rainforest histories of eco-aesthetics and environmental havoc. The second story utilizes film soundtracks and installation sound art to explore cicadas as the traumatized voice of acoustic memory for post-nuclear Japan. The third story utilizes YouTube and ambient video art to explore cicadas and mytho-phonologos in ancient and contemporary Greece, listening equally to Plato’s Phaedrus and the rising mercury of austerity indignation. These three stories reveal how cicadas have sounded as bio-political archives, and how ethnographic, scientific, and art sound recordings can recompose culture and nature into what Donna Haraway calls “naturecultures” that acknowledge “companion species.”


Steven Feld is an anthropologist, filmmaker, sound artist/performer, and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Emeritus at the University of New Mexico. Hi is also currently a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University. After studies in music, film, and photography, he received the Ph.D in Anthropological Linguistics at Indiana University in 1979. From 1976 he began a research project in the Bosavi rainforest of Papua New Guinea. Results include the monograph Sound and Sentiment (republished 2012 in a 3rd and 30th anniversary edition), a Bosavi-English-Tok Pisin Dicitionary, and essays, some published in his co-edited books Music Grooves and Senses of Place. From this work he also produced audio projects including Voices of the Rainforest.

Key theoretical themes developed in this work are the anthropology of sound and voice; acoustemology, particularly regarding eco-cosmology as relational ontology; emotive sensuality; and experimental, dialogic writing, recording, and filmmaking. Work after 2000 has concentrated on related themes in the study of bells in Europe, Japan, Ghana, and Togo, published in CDs, DVDs, and books like The Time of Bells, Skyros Carnival, and Santi, Animali, e Suoni.

His most recent project concerns jazz in West Africa, published in the ten CD, four DVD, and book set Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra. Feld’s work has been supported and honored by MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships as well as book and film prizes.

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