Molly Kelly

Emory University

The Anarchy of the Soundscape: A Phenomenological Approach

In this paper, I explore the resonances between R. Murray Schafer’s notion of the “soundscape” and phenomenological notions of being-in-sonic-worlds. While some scholars (Born 2019; Hosokawa 1984; Sterne 2015) suggest that these elements weaken the overall concept, I argue that Schafer’s hidden phenomenological commitments actually strengthen his work. Responding to characterizations of the soundscape as both “a physical environment and a way of perceiving that environment” (Thompson 2002, 1), I offer an alternative reading of the soundscape as being phenomenologically anarchical. Reading together the works of scholars like Martin Nitsche, Jacques Derrida, and Jonathan Sterne, I demonstrate how a phenomenological approach to the soundscape proves capable of responding to several popular critiques, two of which (“The Euclidean Critique” and “The Subject Critique”) I will discuss at length. To conclude, I hold that such an approach reveals the ontological and topological anarchy of sonic environments, an anarchy which ultimately opens possibilities for nuanced conversations regarding the place, power, and politics of sound.