A Philosophy of Ambient Sound: Materiality, Technology, Art and the Sonic Environment

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Ulrik Schmidt


Roskilde University


DKK 701,817




Monograph Fellowships


The project is a media philosophical and historical study of sound as environment. It explores how an 'environmentalization' of sound has been as a guiding principle in auditory culture from the 19th century to current digital culture and how this long and multifaceted process has influenced the way we understand, use and experience sound today - in advanced media technologies, in sound-oriented art, film and design, and in everyday listening and communication. What does it mean to be affected by sound as environment and not as a set of individual sounds in the environment? How is sound 'staged' as a surrounding environment in different periods and in different fields of practice? How does the environmentalization of sound affect the way we listen, think and communicate?


Environmental sound has been an object of attention in sound studies and sound art for decades. There has been a tendency, however, to reduce the sonic environment to a style or genre in recent music and sound art. With this project I will present another perspective in which environmental sound and ambient sonic practices are seen as essential components of modern and contemporary culture that permeates our engagement with sound on a much deeper level. Furthermore, with this approach I also wish to explore broader cultural issues by showing how environmentalization of sound has induced new modes of listening, new forms of communication and new forms of individual, social and political life in a deeply mediatized culture.


The project is a result of my decade-long research into media philosophy and environmental aesthetics. With the Carlsberg Monograph Fellowship I am grateful for the opportunity to develop this research further in a monograph format. In the book, I will focus on four key aspects of sound as environment: sonic materials: listening technologies: forms of sonic environments: and ambient modes of listening. By introducing concepts such as 'sonic mediatization', 'encapsulation', 'encircling' and 'the distraction-immersion axis', the book presents a conceptual framework for analyzing environmental sound and ambient practices in different areas of sonic culture including music production, sound art, film sound, background music, sonic streaming, and mobile listening in everyday auditory culture.

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