Resonating bodies: an artist's enquiry into sympathies between the audible and the material

Scarfe, Dawn. 2011. Resonating bodies: an artist's enquiry into sympathies between the audible and the material. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

Text (Doctoral Thesis)

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Abstract or Description

This thesis uses sounding objects to explore interactions and affinities between the audible and the material. Throughout, the emphasis is on first hand, practical engagement with resonating bodies. Antiquated acoustic instruments are re-examined, generating personal conjectures and creative explorations. The author submits herself to “therapy” with the sound of the glass harmonica, inspired by controversial physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). Helmholtz resonators (circa 1863) are re-made and given new hearings. The proposition that sound can provoke predictable responses from both inanimate and sentient bodies is considered through these encounters. Particular attention is given to interferences, “spillings and minglings” (Connor, 2001) between the senses, and the dynamic between the senses and the imagination.

Seven key artworks featuring resonating bodies are employed as case studies. These include Lenses (2008), Carillon (2008-9) and Listening Glasses (2009). The case studies are used to approach contested notions of voice, presence, absence, authorial intention, interactivity, audience participation, and other terms implicated in contemporary debates regarding the use of sound in art. The focus on resonance, in the sense of re-sounding, is carried through into the dissemination of art installations, performances and critical reflection by the author. Works are developed, then re-thought and re- formulated in relation to specific art, music and academic contexts in the UK and mainland Europe. Installations become performances and vice versa. Exhibitions, papers and presentations are regarded not as “receptacle[s] of the artist’s vision” (Bourriaud 2002) marking the end point of the creative process, but rather as opportunities to mobilise and test ideas through new frames of reference. Most significantly, the author uses this thesis to consolidate an art practice, and an orientation towards the world that is grounded in reflexivity and the impulse to remain attentive to the detail of her own sensory experiences.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Additional Information:

This research has been generously supported by an AHRC PhD studentship, an Erasmus mobility grant, funding from the Department of Music at Goldsmiths University of London and the arts organisations and academic institutions that invited me to present my work over the course of its development.


scarfe, dawn, thesis, sound, art, resonance, Helmholtz, acoustics, Mesmer

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Unit for Sound Practice Research


1 July 2011

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 Apr 2013 13:53

Last Modified:

12 Sep 2022 11:08


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