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Transposition: Listening lines, online listening

Posted: May 21st, 2015 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

Issue 6 (2016): Listening lines, online listening

Transposition. Musique et sciences sociales

Coordination: Stéphan-Éloïse Gras et Peter Szendy

Since the 1990s, listening has been the subject of growing interest, in terms of not only its social history, but the related technical media and philosophical aspects. Research such as that presented by James H. Johnson (Listening in Paris, 1996), Peter Szendy (Écoute, une histoire de nos oreilles, 2001), Jean-Luc Nancy (À l’écoute, 2002), Jonathan Sterne (The Audible Past, 2003) and more recently, Martin Kaltenecker (L’Oreille divisée, 2010), Michael Bull (Sound Studies, 2013) and Veit Erlmann (Reason and Resonance, 2014) has given rise to a new field, although it is certainly not a homogenous field that can simply be contained in the category of “sound studies”.

Thus, there is a renewed curiosity about listening, and the recent attention it has garnered might say something about the major changes permeating our contemporary practices as musicians, musicologists, researchers, scientists, artists, music lovers and Internet users, or in other words, the practices of listening subjects in general.

But what we would like to elicit with this sixth issue of Transposition is a more specific approach to these reflections. In making listening lines the theme of this Issue, the idea is essentially to examine a context that prompts a rethinking of listening, that is, the massive development of online listening in the second half of the 2000s. Long thought of as a fairly marginal behaviour by music ‘pirates’ and a threat to the music industry, listening on digital platforms is now the preferred means of accessing music for a rising number of listeners. Like CDs and radio in their time, has streaming become the ubiquitous and totalising contemporary form of a ‘musical museum’? In any case, the stabilisation of digital listening practices and media undoubtedly raises new issues in terms of the technological, industrial, economic, political and cultural impact.

Beyond the shifting of music to new formats, this Issue of our review seeks to explore the nature and scope of the significant changes in the ways we listen to music. What effects might have the digital age — the vast movement involving not only the computerisation of musical objects but the massive socialisation of digital technologies — on listening and listening bodies? At the crux of the matter is the prescriptive nature of the formats and operations on which platforms such as YouTube, Spotify, Deezer and Rdio are based.

In this sense, talking about listening lines also suggests that these platforms are far from mere technical systems; they are in fact creating or solidifying guidelines to listening, that is, (a) certain regime(s) of listening. In trying to identify their origins, we can trace the genealogy back well before the advent of digital distribution and streaming as such. Studying the salons or the art of conversation might, for example, provide insight into elements such as online automated recommendation systems (‘X likes…’ as an invitation to listening) and chatting. The history of formats (such as that explored by Jonathan Sterne in Mp3. The Meaning of a Format), the history of forms of musical presentation and distribution (evolution from concert and radio programming and discography albums to bluetooth via mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa) and the history of audiovisual media (video clips, interactive experiences, etc.) also seem to be fertile grounds for the exploration o
f how these new media are affecting listening.

What this Issue seeks to do is to contextualise what is happening with the massification of digital listening on platforms and mobile devices within one or more genealogical lineages. The question we might ask is whether online listening experiences, once placed in the broad scope of history, indicate the emergence of a new musical culture and new audiences. In the end, this long time span surely allows us to understand, examine and perhaps shift the new partition lines of listening, i.e., the divides and borders that appear even within the supposedly neutral and neutralising framework of ‘sharing’. Making playlists, browsing vast sound databases and the simple act of ‘liking’ are all ways in which we are called, more than ever before, to share our listening. But in a broader sense, do they not also raise the question of distributing in the double sense of the French word partage, meaning both dividing up and pooling?

In essence, these partition lines are dictated by the very distributions of our musical sensibilities and our listening experiences configured by contemporary digital media.

Possible areas to explore for a contribution:

  • the social history of music media and genres (listening devices and the presentation of music);
  • the history of musical sensibilities;
  • critical theory of popular music and new media;
  • the sociology of musical tastes and culture and their mediations in the digital sphere;
  • the sociology of audiences reached by these new musical mediations;
  • epistemology and/or the history of sound studies;
  • transformations of the musical instrumentarium and the history of perception;
  • the aesthetics of sound and digital imaging;
  • artistic works and experiences that undermine or replay the contemporary regimes of musical experience.


Proposals for papers (in French or English), to include a presentation of the research methodology and key findings, should be sent before October 15th 2015 to the following address: [email protected]. The deadline for accepted papers is January 30th 2016.

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