Activist Sound: Field Recording, Phonography, and Soundscapes of Protest

DeLaurenti, Christopher. 2020. Activist Sound: Field Recording, Phonography, and Soundscapes of Protest. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Fusing practiced-based and scholarly research, this thesis examines and articulates the practice and products of field recording as a form of protest. Unlike studio recording, which transpires in sheltered and otherwise controlled environments, field recordings have historically been made in unstable, ad hoc, and unpredictable contexts often by un- and self-trained scholars, scientists, artists, and explorers. The contingent and elusive categorization of such recordings as ethnographic documents, environmental research, sound effects, nature recording, soundscape composition, sound art, music, and non-music not only can perturb or further unsettle the listener but offers an entryway into explicating ideologies of listening and recording. The practice-based component of this research emerges from phonography, a contemporary form of field recording characterized by critical approaches to subject matter, sonic fidelity, and the role of the recordist––mediated by the relatively recent availability of inexpensive portable recording devices. The written, scholarly component of this research is rooted in the soundscape model articulated by R. Murray Schafer and subsequently developed by theorists of and contiguous to sound studies, including Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp. Research methodologies include historical investigation, paratextual analysis, participant observation, and artistic creation. Drawing from a representative selection of the author’s unfolding practice over the last 10 years–– N30: Live at the WTO Protest November 30, 1999 (2008); Favorite Intermissions (2008); and To the Cooling Tower, Satsop (2015)––the case studies in this thesis resulted in a critical framework, “activist sound,” for identifying field recordings and field recording-based sound works as a form of protest.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


soundscape, phonography, field recording, soundwalk, R. Murray Schafer, protest, N30, WTO, World Trade Organization, Satsop, intermission

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Unit for Sound Practice Research


16 July 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2021 11:05

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:18


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