Vibration

Heidi Fast, Taru Leppänen and Milla Tiainen

Scholars in the field of sound studies have recently paid increasing attention to the physicality and material movements of sound through the concept of vibration. Michele Friedner and Stefan Helmreich (2012) define the materiality of sound as "a vibration of a certain frequency in a material medium rather than centering vibrations in a hearing ear." (p. 6). Music and voice studies scholar Nina Sun Eidsheim also challenges understandings of sound that are focused exclusively on the ear and the sense of hearing by re-examining singing and sonic experience as "intermaterial vibrational practices" (Eidsheim, 2015, p. 3). Eidsheim emphasizes the dependence of all sound on different material media, ranging from air and water to the materials of built acoustic spaces, sound technologies, and the flesh and bones of human bodies. (Ibid., p. 27-57). She insists that not only aurality "but also tactile, physical, material, and vibrational sensations are at the core of all music (Ibid., p.8; Enriques, 2010).         

Elaborating on these insights, sound as vibration is of great interest to new materialist thinking and research. This is because the vibrations of sound waves attest to, animate and enhance the liveliness and agential capacities of matter. When coursing through different kinds of materiality, vibrations elicit resonances and varying responses within them, spanning from physical to sensorial and materially-bound mental processes. At the same time, vibrations are themselves shaped by the living and actively responding – agential – materialities that they encounter and through which they move. Relatedly, vibrations focus our attention to the interconnectedness and co-occurring of human and more-than-human materialities, bodies and entities. When conceived of as vibrations, sound and music, even if they may be initiated by human actors, are always also non-human or more-than-human material events.

In new materialisms-inspired music and sound studies, the concept of vibration can be used to allow the emergence of new conceptions of sound and music, which reconfigure previous, starkly human-centered, understandings of musical events. A vibrational approach also challenges traditional audist assumptions about music, problematising the views according to which the making and experiencing of musics mainly belong to those who can hear, which has led to the marginalization and discrimination of non-hearing people in music cultures, legal notions of musical authorship, and as subjects of music research. Vibration inspires one to acknowledge the ways in which human and non-human components, from musicians' multisensorial body-minds to technologies and particular settings, jointly partake in processes of music-making and sound production (Leppänen, 2017).

While occurring between and within human bodies and other beings, vibrations create relations. When understood through new materialist ideas of matter as processual and fundamentally relation-bound, these bodies connected by vibrations cannot be seen as pre-constituted. Rather, they emerge anew within the relations involved in the vibrational event in question (Tiainen, 2013; Fast, 2011). In these relations, the human and other participating beings affect and become affected by one another. Steve Goodman (2012, p. 70) has consequently proposed that sound studies scholars should move beyond the current human-centered philosophy of sound toward a wider ontology of vibrational force. Rather than establishing a difference between the bodies involved, vibrations engage them in a shared, mutually affective field of resonance, which surpasses, yet also reshapes, the subjective experiential register. Notably, the transversal power of vibrations can also be harnessed as a political weapon against bodies and individuals or groups. This has been the case with the humanly inaudible but viscerally affective sonic booms, which the Israeli army has launched over the Gaza Strip for example, and with other (sub-)sonic tactics deployed by military and police forces whose purpose has been to elicit bodily pain and terror in the targeting of bodies, creating larger ecologies of fear (see Steve Goodman's discussions of "sonic warfare" in Goodman, 2009).      

In sum, sounds as vibrations put human and other-than-human bodies into a "dynamic, material relationship to both the so-called external world and each other" (Eidsheim, 2015, p. 181). They comprise passages that connect and cross bodies, materialities and actors. Thus, vibrations, and their attendant becomings and affects, always occur within a mutual field "of potential participants, agents, or actants" (Horton, 2014, p. 8). Importantly, vibrations also disperse beyond the auditory register to other modes of sensing, sense perception and knowledge. As such, vibrational forms of sensing radically overflow the limits of individual bodies, being always more widely shared, involving and affective. This transversality and capacity to generate relations endow vibrational events with significant ethical and political implications.  

Synonym: resonance
Antonym: stability
Hypernym: sound
Hyponym: music

References
Fast, Heidi (2011). An Emergent Tuning as a Molecular Organizational Mode. Inflexions: A Journal for Research Creation 4 (December 2011). Retrieved from http://www.inflexions.org/n4\_t\_fasthtml.html
Friedner, Michele & Helmreich, Stefan (2012). Sound Studies Meets Deaf Studies. The Senses and Society 7(1), pp.72-86.
Eidsheim, Nina Sun (2015). Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice. Durham: Duke University Press.
Enriques, Julian (2010). The Vibrations of Affect and their Propagation on a Night Out on Kingston's Dancehall Scene. Body & Society 16(1), pp.57-89.
Goodman, Steve (2012). The Ontology of Vibrational Force. In: Sterne, J., ed., Sound Studies Reader, Abingdon, UK and New York: Routledge, pp. 70--72.
Goodman, Steve (2009). Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Horton, Justin (2014). Vibration, Resonance, Deformation: Deleuze's Soundfulness. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, Seattle. Retrieved from [https://www.academia.edu/6551118/Vibration\_Resonance\_Deformation\_Deleuzes\_Soundfulness]
Leppänen, Taru (2017). Unfolding Non-Audist Methodologies in Music Research. Signing Hip Hop Artist Signmark and Becoming Deaf with Music. In: Moisala, Pirkko, Leppänen, Taru, Väätäinen, Hanna & Tiainen, Milla, eds., Musical Encounters with Deleuze and Guattari, London & New York: Bloomsbury, 33-49, pp. 70--72.
Tiainen, Milla (2013). Revisiting the Voice in Media and as Medium: New Materialist Propositions. NECSUS - European Journal of Media Studies 2 (2). Retrived from [https://necsus-ejms.org/revisiting-the-voice-in-media-and-as-medium-new-materialist-propositions/]

COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.

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