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What Do Sounds Want

A podcast by Radio Papesse & ALMARE – Episode I & II

Welcome to WHAT DO SOUNDS WANT, a podcast by Radio Papesse & ALMARE, distributed by NERO Editions. This is a podcast about sound, or better to say, about listening, throughout a series of questions and intuitions we’ve shared while working together on Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., a sci-fi film & audio novel written and directed by ALMARE. 

Before we start, please let us give you a brief lay of the land:
Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U. is a film, even though there are no images at all. Over a black background, a single voice, in the manner of an audio-diary, narrates the many adventures of researcher Dorothea, as she extracts—and smuggles—sound finds from the past. 

The film investigates the link between data capitalism, technology, and value creation, reflecting on the use of archaeological artefacts, archives, and memory as instruments for power and control.  

Its narrative develops from certain premises that are already current in our socio-economic system, such as the use of voice data, non-consensual recordings, and voiceprints. 

Throughout the episodes of this podcast series, with the help of artists, scholars and researchers we will attempt to unfold the themes behind the film.

It is going to be an intense journey moving from listening practices as tools to shape the world (or its perception of it), to questions about sonic fiction and sonic weapons.

We’d like to invite you to challenge how you listen and most of all… to enjoy the ride.

Shall we begin?

Artworks by Giordano Cruciani.


On august 4th 2020, at 18.08, two-thousand-seventy-five-hundred tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port of Beirut.
The blast was so powerful that it shook the whole of Lebanon, it was felt throughout the entire Middle-East and it was even heard in Cyprus—more than 240 km away. 

It was detected as a seismic event with a magnitude of 3.3. 

The Beirut explosion is considered one of the most powerful artificial non-nuclear explosions in history, powerful enough to affect Earth’s atmosphere.
But obviously, the atmosphere wasn’t the only one affected.
Thousands of people lost their homes, got injured, hundreds lost their lives, and for all those who experienced it there’s a before and an after.
And much of it has to do with the sonic elements of the event.

Reem Shadid: the shared experience of listening to the Beirut explosion  has made a new community of people that might not talk about it, that might not, but are roaming and would maybe potentially even organise very quickly.

Here is Reem Shadid, who is the current director of the Beirut Art Center and one of the co-curators of the 2023 Taipei Biennial

Reem Shadid: I spoke to different people who all told me what they thought they heard when it was first happening. And most of the people, they hear… They heard actually like an air raid. They thought it was an air raid, not an explosion. They thought it was like F-16s that were driving low or something. And that’s not an empty feeling, actually. People felt that because they’ve heard that sound before. And in their memory, in their really sonic memory, this is the most atrocious sounds you can hear. And this is when you know that you really need to do something in order to, again, let’s say, survive.
So the people who had grown up in the Civil War and who are very familiar with all of these sounds  and these are people that are now in their late 30s, they’re not old people, actually – when they heard this, they automatically knew what to do. A lot of them, I hear this a lot, they went and they hid under tables, they hid under before the explosion actually happened. So from one element, this is how I also think of the politics of listening.
This shared listening experience that some people were able to use to disrupt what was happening and literally survive, actually.

With this powerful example of sonic memories capable of pushing certain responses and collective reactions, Reem Shadid reflects on the relationship we all have with our immediate surroundings.

And without necessarily having to go to the extremes of such a dramatic event like the Beirut explosion, she asks how do we listen to the world we live in, if the way we listen could be used to understand it or to disrupt certain power structures.  

These questions brought her to the notion of sonorous territories as defined by Deleuze and Guattari in their publication from 1980, Milles Plateaux

Reem Shadid: Sonorous territory is how you mark space through rhythm. There are certain things that you incorporate rhythm, whether vocally or not, or you start listening to specific things that give you a rhythm that maybe gives you some order within the chaos that you’re in. It’s a safety almost.
It helps to take some control over a chaotic situation that you’re in. For me, rhythm is kind of a metaphorical pace at which things are happening. 

But that’s not only it: rhythm helps to make sense of things as sounds shape the world and our perception of it.
Roland Barthes said that the first thing that power does is to establish a rhythm, and rhythm is political.
But who or what establishes the rhythm? Who or what controls it? 

Reem Shadid: how do we listen when the sounds or the soundscape that we constantly exist in, suddenly shifts.

We’re talking about somewhere that is your home that you have a certain rhythm that you operate within, actually. And then suddenly it completely sounds different.

Those shifts in the soundscape happen whether we acknowledge them or not and they somehow reflect on how we inhabit the space we are in.

They could be triggered by something shocking—like the explosion and its aftermath—or by something subtle, like the kicking-in of generators…

Juliette Volcler: this constant shift that our listening operates, is to me, really the core of critical listening and a way of experiencing and practising sound in a non-authoritarian way.

This is Juliette Volcler, a french independent researcher, producer and sound critic whose work and thinking is central to the whole evolution of Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U. 

Similarly to Reem Shadid, Juliette Volcler interrogates questions of politics of listening, positionality and attunement. 

Juliette Volcler: I think probably we should start with the criticism of capitalism, really, as far as categorizations are concerned. What I mean by that is that the capitalist ideology that we live in is one that is heavily relying on categorizations and very faulty ones, actually, on binary categorizations. And as far as sound is concerned, that, for instance, takes the form of defining what a good sound and what a bad sound is, what’s repellent sound and what an attractive sound is.

Volcler challenges those binary categorisations by promoting listening as a tool for critical thinking and emancipation from pre-determined or assumed constructions.

She criticises the assumptions regarding the use of sound in public spaces as a tool for social control.

Juliette Volcler: Actually, we do have individually and collectively, we do have some control over our sound environments and I think we should never forget that the best way to fight against any industrialization of listening is precisely to make our listening more specific every time. The more specific I think the more you can share it with other people, because industrialization is not a way of sharing.

And this is where you exercise your freedom and this is where also you build the knowledge that listening can offer you..

In Juliette’s words we, the listeners, have agency. We all experience shifts in the way we experience sound as much as the same sound will be perceived differently throughout time and space. In other words, context matters.

Juliette Volcler: the way we listen to things and how we listen to things and what things we listen to, that is absolutely not natural. That is not universal, and that is always culturally and socially constructed.

So, listening is not universal. We keep repeating this and somehow it implies that the understanding of the world that we get from listening  practices, cannot be universal either.
We’re not pushing for an extreme relativism here, but for us this is a reminder of the importance of questioning some of the terminology frequently used when talking about sound and – to keep it with Juliette – about (or against) the industrialisation of sound.
And this brings us to ideas of sound objects and effects…

The term sound object—or object sonore—first came about in 1948 with the french composer Pierre Schaeffer who in his research for a new form of music focused his attention on the “object” as the physical-material thing that would be the source of a specific sound.
The term then evolved from the material thing to its recording, to then land on something “discrete and complete” that could be considered independently from its context.

But Juliette Volcler isn’t fully on board…

Juliette Volcler: I think it’s an interesting tool, but we have to be able to criticise it and to get away from it.

But in order to define how you perceive basically any sound, any sound that you listen to, be it on your headphones, from a podcast, or from the radio, or in the movies, or when you just walk in the street and you don’t have any headphones on you, any sound you listen to has some effect on it. You perceive it through effect. 

And what is effect? In fact, it’s the influence of the context of the environment on sound itself. 

And you cannot listen to a sound outside of an environment.

And to exercise listening as a tool for critical thinking also means to further step away from the idea that sound and listening are natural and a-historical elements that anyone in any given period of time, in any culture could experience exactly in the same way. Sound is not neutral. 

Nor can be neutral the perception of it.

And on that note, citing Kodwo Eshun’s book “More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction” sound studies researcher and curator Giada Dalla Bontà says: 

Giada Dalla Bontà: sonic effects and affects operate not only at the level of intellect or imagination; they also extend to how they engage the entire body. In Kodwo Eshun’s view, the physical aspect of experiencing sound is not in opposition to intellectual perception, and the brain alone doesn’t hold exclusive rights to comprehend and perceive sound. Instead, the body acts as a vast, distributed mind capable of holistic thinking and feeling. It harmonises with various textural, melodic, and rhythmic inputs to such an extent that it “drastically collapses and reorganises the sensorial hierarchy”

And that’s also what we talked about with artist and writer and theorist Brandon Labelle whose research on sound culture, voice and questions of agency resonate with our investigation within the world of Dorothea Ïesj.

In line with Juliette Volcler’s push to move beyond the classical definition of sound object Brandon LaBelle proposes possible different ways of thinking about it.

Brandon LaBelle: Sound for me is fundamentally a question of relationality or it sort of opens up this path or perspective onto relationalities. So for me, the object is always somehow in dialogue with something else, it’s actually not a singularity. Maybe it’s an interesting object because it is a carrier of multiplicity, for example.

Maybe one of the aspects that sound may invite us into is the sense of the subject. The sonic object is always a little bit alive. […] and maybe that’s part of its power and part of its poetic as well
I also really appreciate when we get into questions of public space and sound as something that really also activates these spatial relational experiences is the way that it traffics across worlds that are both human, non-human, that are public, but also very private, that are personal and impersonal, material and immaterial.

In the words of researcher and curator Giada Dalla Bontà:

Giada Dalla Bontà: Clearly, sound has to do with space, it expands in the air sound, travelling from the emittent (sender) to the receiver crosses the air, our bodies, and comes back, in a constant feedback loop that links bodies together, bodies to local communities and places, to social and even 

religious orders, to metaphysical loci, to memory and identity. Therefore, the aural space has a very profound  relational, expansive and “interstitial” nature that triggers psychological and emotional reactions, but also physical ones. And such reactions are not merely a byproduct of a passive action.

In this “constant feedback loop”—as Giada Dalla Bontà calls it, whenever a sonic occurrence happens, whenever a sound object comes to be it  creates soundwaves that propagate through the environment. 

So, we go back to Brandon LaBelle’s words:

Brandon LaBelle: There’s also a really wonderful way in which, as we know, sound is always, in a sense, leaving objects behind. So if we think that a sound happens, and it starts from some moment of material friction or a certain material event that is very concrete or object-based, mostly we could say, that is vibratory, frictional, and then sound is produced from that, and it leaves those objects or materialities behind to propagate through an environment.

Because of that, I think it does really invite this imagination that we have to follow sound wherever it may take us. So it leads us into a lot of imaginary, imaginative dimensions. And that really, for me, becomes the basis for also how we may enter into relationships and enter into spaces through sound.
So even when that sound leaves those objects behind to become a milieu in which reverberation is very pronounced. 

Reverberations then become maybe opportunities for, again, how we participate, how we find each other through these reverberations that have become also carriers of voices and bodies and situations.

So maybe reverberations become also slightly political in that sense, which is that where or in what sense do I do things to allow certain sounds to travel?

To think that sound reverberations and their echoes may never stop moving through time and ether could also be an exercise in imagination.

Brandon LaBelle: I was also thinking about how, I mean, sometimes there’s that idea as well, that fantasy maybe about, do sounds ever really stop? Are they just continuing to move through the ether? And so there is that sense maybe with recordings that they may come to us at certain moments that can also carry us when we need it or give further support in moments, particularly of conflict or crisis. We can think maybe reverberation is also a support structure or support of energy that can help lift or give inspiration even to others at later moments in time.

In a similar way, Juliette Volcler reminds us of the political dimension of sound in public space. What is acceptable, who or what controls it—or wants to control it—and how do we listen to it.

Juliette Volcler: I think the question of sound and public space is a very political question, because it’s the well, my idea is that listening and sound, as far as public space is concerned, should be considered as part of the commons, like the air that we breathe, like some spaces that are not being fenced, for instance.
Behind this is also the question of analysing the public space as a battlefield for different industries, but also the public space as a space where different actors will shape the use of the public space through the sounds that they say are legitimate into that space and which sounds are not legitimate. 

So, sound in public space is essentially a matter of power, recognition, imagination and organisation. 

But what about the listener’s agency, our agency, that Juliette was talking about before?

In her words our agency lies in being aware that the sonic world around us is a construction, is fiction. 

Juliette Volcler: fiction, it has a double meaning. It’s fiction as far as it’s being organised and edited like this podcast will be. This podcast actually is a fiction too. Everything is edited and organised. And even if you don’t edit it, the basic choices that you make, what microphone you will use, where you will put it, how long you will record and what you will choose to focus on when you record. This moment when you will record sound, it will make it specific and it will immediately put sound into this set of symbolic significances that you cannot listen to pure sound. It’s always in that kind of set. But also fiction is not only in the producer’s hands, it’s also in the listener’s ears.

And that’s also where we have a lot of freedom. I mean, freedom and also a very strong ethical imperative. 

Listening to Giada Dalla Bontà, Brandon LaBelle, Reem Shadid and Juliette Volcler, we walked through some of the many questions that may rise thinking of sound in public space; of how listening practices may be used as tools for critical thinking and for the tuning and re-tuning of power dynamics.
On how sound may shape the perception of the world we live in and how, through its complexities, questions of ethics and power do emerge. 

In the next episode of WHAT DO SOUNDS WANT we’ll dive head first into the role of technology in supporting and experimenting with the production of pervasive sounds.

This podcast serves as a pair to Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., a project by ALMARE curated by Radio Papesse, promoted in collaboration with Timespan and produced thanks to the support of the Italian Council – a program to promote Italian art by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

We know this podcast is an intense journey and unfortunately we don’t have the time or length to unpack all the perspectives mentioned in each episode, but you will be able to find all the references we found to be useful and interesting together with an extensive bibliography on 

We hope we’ve been able to catch your attention and if you’d like to know more about  Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., please visit and

You can find the Italian translation of the first episode here.

Brandon Labelle (2018), Sonic Agency. Sound and emergent form of resistance, Goldsmith Press
Brandon Labelle (2021) Acoustic Justice. Listening, performativity and the work of rerorientation, Bloomsbury
Salomé Voegelin (2014) Sonic possible worlds, Bloomsbury
Juliette Volcler (2011) Le son comme arme. Les usager militaires et policiers du son, Édition La Découverte
Juliette Volcler (2017) Contrôle. Comment s’inventa l’art de la manipulation sonore, Édition La Découverte
Juliette Volcler (2022) L’orchestration du quotidien. Design sonore et écoute au 21e siècle, Édition La Découverte
Deleuze G., Guattari F. (1980) Mille Plateaux, Minuit Paris
Elmer Rice, A voyage to Purilia
Roland Barthes (2013 ed.) How to live together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces. New York: Columbia University Press. 
Jean François Augoyard, Hery Torgue, ed. (1995) À l’écoute de l’environnement. Répertoire des effets sonores. Edition Parenthèses
Barry Blesse and Linda-Ruth Salter (2007) Spaces speak, are you listening? Experiencing aural architecture. The MIT Press
Helen Thorington, Il est si difficile de trouver le commencement (2017). Van Dieren, Collection Rip’on/off

Useful links



Reem Shadid is a curator, researcher and cultural organizer who works on the emancipatory possibilities within artistic practice. Her curatorial practice lays at the intersection of sonic, visual and literary work.

Juliette Volcler is a radio producer, sound critic and independent researcher. In her studies she explored the use of acoustic waves for offensive and coercive purposes and she is the author of Le son comme arme, les usages policiers et militaires du son, Paris (La découverte 2011).

Brandon LaBelle is an artist, writer and theorist working with sound culture, voice, listening and questions of agency; His practice aligns itself with the politics and poetics of radical hospitality. He’s the founder of Errant Bodies Press and initiated The Listening Biennial.

Giada Dalla Bontà is a researcher, curator, and writer focusing on the intersection between sound, politics, art, underground and experimental practices.

Artworks by Giordano Cruciani.


Hello, listener. 

This is What Do Sounds Want?, a podcast by Radio Papesse and ALMARE. It is podcast about sound, or better to say, about listening, through a series of questions and intuitions we’ve shared while working together on Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., a sci-fi audio novel that follows the adventures of the researcher Dorothea as she extracts and resells sounds from the past.

Have you listened to the first episode? If you’re interested in the relationship between sound, listening practices and public space, go back to it. If you’re into how sound, recording and listening technology, data extractivism and economic value are tied together, wait for the next one. Here, we’ll be investigating how technologies have been supporting and experimenting with the production of pervasive sounds.

If a sound hurts, causes discomfort or physiological imbalance, well, that sound is to be considered a weapon. Those implementing such sound devices describe them as “non-lethal weapons”.

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. Yet another crime of systemic racism by law enforcement and American society as a whole. Black Lives Matter resounds throughout the country while, in many cities, the sky is lit by fireworks. The Atlantic states that, in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Boston, residents have reported an unusual uptick in fireworks. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Hartford, Connecticut: fireworks. In Greenville, South Carolina, and Columbus, Ohio: fireworks!

On June 21st, the rapper Whale tweets: “too many ppl from major cities sayin this. Something is afoot.”

Online, rumours circulate: all these fireworks—illegal in many states, including NYC—are secretly set up by the police to disrupt the sleep of those living in the neighbourhoods most involved in organising and participating in protests against police brutality. 

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it must be said that the US secret services have done this before: using sound as a weapon is a widely established practice both in the army and by the police themselves. In fact, some fireworks do make a lot of noise, so it’s not surprising that a mind prone to believing it is “under attack” might imagine fireworks are being used for disruptive purposes—and no wonder they’re also known as bombs, mortars or batteries.

Non-lethal sound weapons, such as flash-bangs, debilitators and long-range acoustic devices (LRADs), are increasingly used in civil contexts, such as the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. These devices can cause dizziness, loss of balance and nausea, and it is not uncommon for victims to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. And yet, many people are surprised by the very existence of acoustic weapons.

The French theorist Juliette Volcler, whom we met in Episode 1,  has written a lot about sonic weapons. In her work Extremely Loud: Sound as Weapon, she writes:  «In a world dominated by images, people need to be reminded of the existence of sound, this background noise, sidekick of the visible».


Steve Goodman, better known as Kode9, has concentrated most of his studies on the liminal areas of sound perception (infrasounds and ultrasounds), developing a theory of the relationship between vibration and power, based on what he calls “politics of frequency”. 

His pivotal book, Sonic Warfare, was published in 2009. Goodman explores the many ways sound can affect the body – and rather literally addresses what we call “bad vibes”.

Spanning philosophy, science, narrative, aesthetics and popular culture, this book considers police and military research on the acoustic means of crowd control, sound branding, and music cultures, as many artists and musicians have ventured into these powerful frequencies in search of new aesthetic experiences. Goodman also speculates on the not-yet-heard, or the concept of “unsound”, which relates to the peripheries of auditory perception. 

While reading this book, we understand that the term “sonic warfare” basically refers to all the practices and devices that exploit the power of sound to trigger a given effect in individuals and populations. We’re talking about the tools and actions of “psychoacoustic correction”, such as those used in Panama by the US army against Manuel Noriega, the sound bombs dropped on the Gaza Strip, or the acoustic rat repellents used to dissuade teenagers in shopping malls. Kodwo Eshun, writer, theorist and artist best known for his 1998 book More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, wrote that «by insisting on the primacy of vibration… Sonic Warfare charts a transdisciplinary micropolitics of frequency».

In an interview in 2011, Steve Goodman said he was interested in  “dread-full” urban environments, and in how they “affect” people by producing anxiety and uncertainty. At the same time, much of the music and related musical cultures born in these environments (jungle, footwork, dubstep and many others) have managed to take this feeling, this unpleasant “affect”, and translate it into cultural codes that make this feeling “aesthetically productive” rather than existentially immobilising. To make a long story short: take anxiety and anger and vent them through music.

Steve Goodman
During the 90s in particular, and especially during a period in which I was listening to and deejaying jungle, a lot of jungle music, I became interested in the way sounds of alarm -sounds of gunshots, sirens and so on, in other words, sounds that really trigger a fight or flight response, sounds that tap into a very basic autonomic response to sound and a very elementary dimension of the auditory system, which is primarily to scan the environment for signs of threat. So, when that becomes aestheticized, when these kind of samples, for example, become part of rave culture, then obviously we don’t run away.

This is Steve Goodman. We recently had a long conversation, during which we spoke about his book Sonic Warfare, the desire or urgency to carry out research on sonic weapons, and the ability of sound to affect the body.

For me, there’s an interesting transposition that takes place when you stay and enjoy sounds which trigger alarm; so that could be called transvaluation or re-polarisation from bad to good sound or alert to enjoyment, intense fear to intense enjoyment. This kind of transformative valuation, I think, is interesting. But I would also say that the impetus, some of the impetus to write this book, also came from an interest in what I would call the fluid dynamics of crowds. From a visual point of view, when you’re watching a crowd, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between dance and violence. I had this experience in the 1990s at Nottingham Carnival, watching a jungle sound system from above, and a track would drop and the crowd would go crazy for that particular bassline. But also, I remember seeing, occasionally, small fights breaking out in the crowd for various reasons people pushing into each other, you know, a very tightly packed street, full of full of people. And I’ve always been interested in this idea of a fluid dynamics of crowd. And so that’s one example of this kind of flip flop, this… ambiguity between dance and violence. And it’s something that I’ve thought about a little bit in relation to also martial arts and dance.

Varèse, Avraamov, Shostakovich. The Sweet, The Clash, Black Sabbath. Quincy Jones, Dr. Dre, Travis Scott. The Speed Freak, Atari Teenage Riot, The Panacea, The Bug. We could go on for hours, listing all the musicians who have sampled the sound of a siren in their songs over the decades.

How do we hear and understand emergency signals at a time of intersecting environmental and sociopolitical crisis? How can we address alarm fatigue, as both a lived reality and a metaphor for our current state? 

We asked these questions to the artist Aura Satz, whose ongoing project Preemptive Listening sees her working collaboratively with a roster of musicians, including Steve Goodman, to speculatively reimagine what a  siren is. 

Aura Satz
I’ve been working on this roughly for seven years now. It’s a reimagining of the siren, both as a kind of sonic experience, but also as a cypher for a wider way of understanding emergency. What is worthy of attention, how we understand the siren as a call to attention and instructions are telling us to do something, and also pointing to some sense of future or the possibility of survival. And maybe I should add that I’ve invited around 20 different musicians to reimagine a siren composition.

What I’m trying to do is to think what would happen if we were to redesign these sounds afresh, and if we were to think around what they’re intended to do, rather than what they sound like in the current soundscape we’ve inherited. And to do this, I have a kind of working definition of the siren, the first kind of part of my working definition is that it’s a call to attention. And the second that it carries within it an instruction. So it’s telling you to do something. It’s telling you to move, evacuate, go to the shelter, go to a higher hill. You know, we’re not all equal monolithic listeners. Your positionality will impact how you hear the siren, whether it’s for you, whether you’re designated as the warning or whether you’re designated as the threat in that listening process.

I think it is true that we have a vocabulary of sonic weapons and certain kinds of sounds that we associate with this, whether it’s a kind of glissando, you know, rising and falling tone or low frequencies, as Steve Goodman writes about so well. But at the same time, you know. Low frequencies are also used for healing. Rising and falling towns are. Sounds are also used in other contexts and give pleasure. So I’m kind of moving slightly away from this idea that there’s an inherent quality to the sound that makes it operate in a certain way, and towards this idea that there’s all kinds of contexts and circumstances and positionality that impact the way that we might both hear on the one hand and receive and interpret the siren and understand it as directed at us or directed at someone else. 

I interviewed a grassroots organization near San Francisco. They’re called Mental Health First Image First; it’s a kind of it’s an alternative reading of what the emergency is and who is served by that understanding of the emergency. So, it’s for people of color in the US experiencing a mental health breakdown. That was like 2016 when I first started to come up with this idea. And so much has happened in between worldwide also to me on a personal level. But I wanted to, for my own sanity and for some kind of emotional, spiritual, intellectual sustenance, reach out to people that I think have the capacity to imagine alternatives. So, you know, sound wise, the alternative is just, you know, imagining a totally different siren.

Going back to Steve Goodman… in Sonic Warfare, he introduces the reader to films, radio pieces and other works of fiction. This choice seems to make it clear that Sonic Warfare is also a story of mythologies, urban legends, hyperstitional figures, impossible technologies. Steve Goodman wrote of hazy stories of secret military research, dead end after dead end of conspiracy theories, a jungle of hearsay and rumors.

The book emerged out of trying to take seriously some of the ways in which musicians would dramatise and conceptualise their own music, the way they would create fictions around their own music and would think through in perhaps often slightly amplified or melodramatic terms, the significance or the political context for what they were doing. The book starts with a quote from the film Apocalypse Now, which is about the Vietnam War. It also has some quotes from the film The Last Angel of history by the Black Audio Film Collective, which is a kind of history of the intersection between, um, black science fiction and aspects of the black avant garde in music and electronic music. So, you know, whether it be cinematic or whether it be musical, the book emerges through trying to take seriously some of these fictional episodes of the idea of acoustic weaponry. So it’s not just a book about something which I talk a lot about in the book, which is trying to find a very basic or trying to theorise a very basic vibrational ontology of sonic force. So it’s not only about theorising this ontology of vibrational force, but it’s also about, I suppose, epistemological issues and epistemological malfunctions and breakdowns: so the idea of acoustic weaponry in sonic fiction, the idea of acoustic weaponry in speculative fiction, but also when you start to look from a more documentary or historical approach, scientific research or actual episodes of the use of sound within war, for example, then you’re confronted with all of this data and conspiracy theory, rumour, myth, great science and lies, which is epistemologically problematic. In other words, you don’t know if it’s true or false. So the book comes out of that grey zone and I’m as interested in a kind of documentary approach to the to acoustic weaponry, as I am, in the more speculative dimension where any clear distinction between truth and falsity breaks down. I think, because in a way, it’s not surprising that a lot of the research about acoustic weaponry is so problematic, because. at the cutting edge of military research, secrecy is obviously very important. Secrecy and deception. I’m not quite sure of the implications yet, but I think there is some implications to do with post-truth culture and what kind of methodology is appropriate to a culture that is migrated beyond a simple distinction between truth and falsity. 

We’ve already mentioned the concept of “unsound”. The term “unsound”, juxtaposed with the term “undead”, underlies a collection of texts compiled by the research collective AUDINT in 2019, edited by Toby Heys, Eleni Ikoniadou and Steve Goodman himself. The anthology proceeds between science fiction and essay, alternating sound research papers and the story of the imaginary artificial intelligence IREX2, a melding of digital and undead entities.

Life Chronicles of Dorothea ïesj S.P.U. draws ideas from the early 20th century theories which hold that sound can be extracted from matter. It winks at the historically blurred boundary between what we would call “science” today and what we would dismiss instead as “pseudo-sciences” or even “occult”, “esoteric” practices.

Like photography, the history of recording technologies is also filled with spectral, ghostly references to voices and sounds from the afterlife. Isn’t it fascinating, this idea that sound can constitute a special intersection of the occult and technology, empirical and data-driven knowledge? History becomes science fiction and vice-versa.

In Sonic Warfare, we read that “we still don’t know what a sonic body can do.” 

Steve Goodman quotes John Duncan, as reported by Rob Young in an article published by The Wire in 1997: “By now it is fairly well established that science is the accepted framework for explaining discoveries, and in this sense it is as ‘trustworthy’ as a religion is ‘trustworthy’. It is also clear, to many scientists among others, that there is infinite knowledge that the discipline of science cannot even begin to explain. Trusting that science—or anything else—will provide all the answers to all the questions is a tragic mistake. I am interested in the whole process.” We asked Steve Goodman if he agrees with the idea that affectivity escapes dichotomous categories of thought.

The way I use affect is an attempt to go beyond the split between the mind and the body, between language and bodily sensation and in a way that opens out onto the unknown and the idea that science doesn’t just take us closer to a factual world out there, but simultaneously multiplies the unknown. All this is embodied in the concept of unsound on one level, unsound is the shadow of sound, so it’s sound too low in frequency to hear. Or too high in frequency to hear, but is still an active, measurable vibration. So, for example, infrasound and ultrasound, both of which can generate physiological and neurological responses that we’re not necessarily conscious of. Unsound is also about sounds. As auditory prosthetics evolve we’ll have much more access to what are currently inaudible vibrations, but also as sound generating technology evolves, new signs will be created that didn’t previously exist, for example, granular synthesis and developments in digital audio generation. New sounds will be invented. And finally. Perhaps most importantly, the pun. In English, unsound means dubious or suspect ethical, moral or political foundations. So it has this has this multi valence to it as a concept which relates not just to sound and the unknown dimensions of sound, but also to, let’s say, the ethical political context of sound. 

As we were reading Sonic Warfare, an idea came to us: the numerous attempts and urban legends about the possibility of creating sonic weapons by implementing infrasound are, in themselves, a weapon of preemptive power. 

In November 2016, in Havana, a US diplomat and his wife, recently arrived in Cuba, complained to the maintenance workers of the luxury residential estate in which they resided of a loud, high pitched, metallic noise. Like cicada noise, but on steroids. The noise continues for the next three months, during which the two diplomats fell ill. They got dizzy, cloudy, lightheaded, unable to concentrate; once in Miami, the two were diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms.

It is only the first of many cases of what will be called “Havana Syndrome”. People suffering from this mystery have reported symptoms including dizziness, headaches, fatigue, nausea, anxiety, sensory alterations (including hearing impairment), and memory loss. When the media broke the news, numerous US government officials accused unnamed foreign actors of causing these incidents by using ultrasonic technology. In the spring 2017, an investigation was launched by the FBI, which sent agents to Havana: the agency claimed to have found no evidence of the use of sonic weapons. In 2018, JASON, a group of physicists and scientists advising the US government, analysed the audio recordings and concluded that the sounds were “most likely” caused by Anurogryllus Celerinictus: that is, a native species of crickets that are particularly noisy.

Berlin based brazilian artist and musician Ananda Costa used this cricket as the main source for a piece  called Sonic Weapons from Latin America, a sound collage that uses archive field recordings of tropical crickets to donate Latin American countries the natural science fiction weapons they are expected to have and explore the absurd relation of fear and demotion in the diplomatic environment.

We have come to the end of this second long episode of What Do Sounds Want?

So far one might say sounds want to hurt us, to disorient us, to deceive us, to sing insubstantial paranoid lullabies while striking us like a punch. Then again, they equally want us to dance and unleash our libidinal energies and social frustration, reversing the ecologies of fear that reign on the global sprawl. No doubt they want to get to the body. And as Steve Goodman says, we still don’t know what a sonic body can do. Next, we will turn to the economies of data and their logic of extractive listening. And we will investigate how the so-called “Sonic Fictions” can not only narrate this all, but also affect and shape future scenarios and their understanding.

You can find the Italian translation of the second episode here.


Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare. Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear, MIT Press (2012)
Steve Goodman, Toby Heys, Eleni Ikoniadou, AUDINT-Unsound:Undead, Urbanomic (2019)
Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun, Quartet Books (1998)
Juliette Volcler, Extremely Loud: Sound as Weapon, translated by Carol Volk, The New Press (2013)
Rob Young, Exotic Audio Research, The Wire, Issue 157, March 1997
Samuel Gibbs Samsung’s voice-recording smart TVs breach privacy law, campaigners claim, The Guardian Online, February 27th 2015
K. Tiffany, The Boom in Fireworks Conspiracy Theories, June 24th, 2020, The Atlantic
Ottenhof, Sound of the police: how US law enforcement uses noise as a weapon, The Guardian Online, July 14th, 2020
Aura Satz in conversation with Daphne Carr, Amant, October 9th 2022
Barbara London, Aura Satz: A Complex Marriage of Human and Machine, Flash Art Online, May 5th 2022 https://flash— 
Ananda Costa, Sound Weapons from Latin America, Radio Papesse, 2018 
Cody Mello-Klein, Crickets May Be the Cause of Havana Syndrome, Northeastern Global News reporter, June 13rd 2023 


Ananda Costa is a Berlin­ based composer and music researcher, originally from Salvador (Brazil). She researches and teaches in the field of electronic music.

Steve Goodman, aka Kode9 is a musician, producer, founder of the label Hyperdub and author of Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (MIT Press 2009).

Aura Satz is an artist whose work encompasses film, sound, performance and sculpture; her research is centered on various sound technologies in order to explore notation systems, code and encryption.


Radio Papesse is a web radio and a sound archive dedicated to contemporary artistic practices, founded by Ilaria Gadenz and Carola Haupt. It hosts and commissions experimental sound and radio works, by inviting artists and sound makers to renovate the rules of broadcasting and narration.
ALMARE is an artistic and curatorial collective dedicated to contemporary art practices that use sound as expressive mean. It was founded in Turin in 2017 by Amos Cappuccio, Giulia Mengozzi, Luca Morino and Gabbi Cattani. ALMARE works between curatorial and artistic practices, through collective writing, research, sound and music production, organizing concerts, performance lectures, talks and exhibitions.