The Aural Culture of Urban Archaeology

Material and visual culture studies explore the polyvalence of objects and pictorial representations. Post-structural visual culture studies critique the authority of visual empiricism when used in the formulation of social scientific information and disseminated through text. Ironically, like an autocatalytic cycle, these critics use texts and representations to exhibit the potency attributed to visual facticity. We propose an alternative to both visual authority and post-structural appropriation and representation. A viable option to the authority of vision and the text is to collect aural culture data and re-present it in an audio environment. Aural culture studies interpret the contextual meanings of primary, accidental, tertiary and commentary soundscapes within audio ecologies.

We will produce an audio- and text-based sociology of an audio ecology associated with a social scientific act, namely an urban archaeological excavation. With data gathered through sound-recording fieldwork and exhibited through live performance, this ground-breaking introduction to aural culture studies will contribute to our critical knowledge of the role audio ecologies play in social and social scientific formulas. The case study of the audio ecology of an archaeology excavation in London will exhibit the potentials of aural cultural studies to reflect the contextual nature of communication and audio memories.

Field methodology will be inspired by the field techniques of ethnographic videographers, site-specific artists, and “found sound” electronica musicians. Background theory will be informed by sociologies of the roles played by musical affinities, experiential consumption, and dance club environments in late-capitalist Western urban societies. Production and exhibition praxis will be informed by structural, cognitive and interpretive archaeological, and “found sound” aural mixing methods of bricolage and theories of stratigraphy.

Aural Urban Archaeology

The UK is at the forefront of a high-tech, media-infused, reflexive, public, and urban interpretive archaeology. In interpretive archaeology, filmic media, self-aware critical theory, and the embodied act of excavation are conflated in a data recovery and interpretive act. Utilizing this orientation, the University College of London and other institutions are exploring London’s history through archaeological excavations. we will join the excavation as an aural archaeologist, digitally recording all endogamous or extemporaneous sounds and narrations specific to the histories pursued by and within the archaeological acts. The audio ecology may include: machinations of labor with metal tools, confessions of excavators, post-structural meta-narration, the perturbations of the metropolis, and off-site sounds affiliated with the pursued histories. In a text, I will extrapolate archaeological fieldwork syntax to a theory of an audio ecology of urban archaeology. Additionally, we will perform the aural archaeological data through the production of a studio CD and through a live, site-specific, audio artwork.

The textual document will serve as a sociology of urban interpretive archaeology (itself a sociology of scientific knowledge), a supplement to the record of the archaeological excavation, and an introduction to field methods for aural cultural studies. The text will explore the structures and metaphors unique to both aural and interpretive archaeology, stratigraphy and bricolage. Stratigraphy refers to the layers of information deposited by social acts. Bricolage refers to the mixing of stratigraphies in which information affinities and/or resistances are magnified. The aural archaeologist is a bricoleur, who, in dealing with stratigraphies of sound, citation, and subjectivity, produces a situated knowledge. This is most apparent outside of the text, in performance.

This archaeology/audio metaphor analogizes archaeological praxis with the field methods of “found-sound” electronica musicians and the live aural-montage performances of the club disc jockey (DJ). Much like the aural archaeologist, the “found sound” artist and DJ are bricoleurs who use sound artifacts recovered from audio ecologies to make celebratory expositions on temporalities of urban living. Performance is an important corporeal gesture in any non-linear discourse on sensual embodiment, particularly hearing. In order to interject archaeological knowledge into the public substructure of urbanity and further the praxis analogies between aural and interpretive archaeology, this data will be performed in the site-specific aural-friendly community and environment of a dance club. Through intellectual and emotional evocations, this performance will work to dissolve the strangle hold on authority held by visuality and textuality.

In sum, the final products will be a text, audio CD, and live performance. The substantial text will form an essential structure, outlining the theoretical and methodological precedents for an aural cultural study of urban archaeology. The text will establish the concepts of stratigraphy and bricolage as fundamental components of aural culture studies. Further, the text will describe in detail the hundreds of sound elements used on the CD and serve as a platform for a retrospective on the live performance. The live performance will also be video taped from numerous vantages to be conflated and recycled at a later date when the audio/archaeology analogy will be extrapolated to the archaeofilm.

Click here for the Audio Introduction to Urban Archaeology

Click here for an Aural Archaeology of the Obelisk and the Place de la Concorde

Click here for a Script Treatment of an Aural Archaeology

(you may need realplayer)











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