On Friday 3 November, Dr Brecht De Man (Centre for Digital Music, Queen Mary University of London) and Dr Melissa Dickson (Diseases of Modern Life, University of Oxford) organised a one-day workshop at the London Science Museum on the topic of language describing sound, and sound emulating language. Titled ‘Sound Talking‘, it brought together a diverse lineup of speakers around the common theme of sonic semantics. And with diverse we truly mean that: the programme featured a neuroscientist, a historian, an acoustician, and a Grammy-winning sound engineer, among others.
The event was born from a friendship between two academics who had for a while assumed their work could not be more different, with music technology and history of Victorian literature as their respective fields. When learning their topics were both about sound-related language, they set out to find more researchers from maximally different disciplines and make it a day of engaging talks.
After having Dr Dickson as a resident researcher earlier this year, the Science Museum generously hosted the event, providing a very appropriate and ‘neutral’ central London venue. The venue was further supported by the Diseases of Modern Life project, funded by the European Research Council, and the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London.
The programme featured (in order of appearance):
- Maria Chait, Professor of auditory cognitive neuroscience at UCL, on the auditory system as the brain’s early warning system
- Jonathan Andrews, Reader in the history of psychiatry at Newcastle University, on the soundscape of the Bethlehem Hospital for Lunatics (‘Bedlam’)
- Melissa Dickson, postdoctoral researcher in Victorian literature at University of Oxford, on the invention of the stethoscope and the development of an associated vocabulary
- Mariana Lopez, Lecturer in sound production and post production at University of York, on making film accessible for visually impaired audiences through sound design
- David M. Howard, Professor of Electronic Engineering at Royal Holloway University of London, on the sound of voice and the voice of sound
- Brecht De Man, postdoctoral researcher in audio engineering at Queen Mary University of London, on defining the language of music production
- Mandy Parnell, mastering engineer at Black Saloon Studios, on the various languages of artistic direction
- Trevor Cox, Professor of acoustic engineering at University of Salford, on categorisation of everyday sounds
In addition to this stellar speaker lineup, Aleks Kolkowski (Recording Angels) exhibited an array of historic sound making objects, including tuning forks, listening tubes, a monochord, and a live recording of a wax cylinder. The workshop took place in a museum, after all, where Dr Kolkowski has held a research associateship, so the display was very fitting.
The full program can be found on the event’s web page. Video proceedings of the event are forthcoming.