About

Music is typically encountered as a cultural surface. Songs emanate instantaneously and almost magically from our computers and home stereos. Tools for hearing and making music, such as recordings and guitars, wait for us in stores and online shops, ready for purchase with no assembly required. And when we’re done with these instruments, recordings, and playback machines, we can kick them to the curb, where they disappear effortlessly and without a trace. Day-to-day musical enjoyment seems so simple, so easy, so automatic. But it isn’t.

This symposium digs beneath such surface-level encounters, revealing the hidden infrastructural dimensions of music making and listening. We take nothing for granted about the manufacture, delivery, or disposal of music’s material bases. We trace guitars back to the blade of the axe. We follow Ethernet cables through the walls to the fibre-optic networks and data centers that power streaming digital audio files. We chart the unseen carbon footprints of concert touring. And we shadow garbage trucks to find out where all those old records and playback devices actually disappear to.

Over the course of three days, we will explore three main infrastructural phases in the social life and social death of music: (1) resources and manufacturing, (2) shipping and circulation, (3) failure and waste. We are interested in how these phases influence and respond to aesthetic conventions, technological and environmental realities, as well as political-economic conditions in both industrializing and industrialized parts of the world. By approaching music in this way, we find unexpectedly intimate connections between the industries of music, forestry, mining, and chemical engineering. We show how natural resources and infrastructural developments are tied to music as an aesthetic practice. We discover the hard-to-see but nevertheless very real environmental costs of music making and listening, including the aggregate energy effects of data streaming, music production, and concert touring. And we excavate the graveyards of disused musical commodities around the world.

It is unusual to think of music—supposedly the most “immaterial” of the arts—in such grounded and potentially damaging terms. This is where the Organized Sound Symposium steps in. By highlighting the centrality of resource extraction, supply chains, information networks, and waste management in musical culture, we offer new maps of the global political entanglements and environmental consequences of the music industries. Although trees, rocks, shipping lanes, power lines, fiber-optic cables, and garbage piles may seem peripheral to musical culture, we reveal just how pivotal they are to what music is, how it works, and why it matters.

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