EH Out Loud

The podcast where we investigate how technology mediates what it means to be human.



Season 2, Episode 1: Intro to Sound Cluster




Voice: Experimental Humanities



Laura Kunreuther: Hello and welcome to Experimental Humanities Out Loud, the podcast where we investigate how technology mediates what it means to be human. I’m Laura Kunreuther, an Anthropology professor here at Bard College, and I’ll be taking you through this series of episodes about the Experimental Humanities sound cluster. As one of the initial members of the EH Steering Committee, I started one of EH’s first interdisciplinary clusters of faculty who all share an interest in sound. The sound cluster gathered together monthly to discuss scholarly articles, listen to sound projects, or share our writing works in progress. Our work together led to a fantastic campus-wide sound symposium in the spring of 2016, that included keynote speakers, an exhibition of student and faculty work, and academic panels around themes we had been discussing in our cluster. This series of Out Loud features episodes about the formation of the sound cluster, memories of the symposium, and examples of student work from two classes taught by faculty in our working group. Listen up, and let’s dive into the first episode about how the sound cluster got started.


Danielle Riou: Hi everyone, my name is Danielle Riou. I run the Human Rights Radio and Sound Lab and I am the Associate Director of the Human Rights Project here at Bard. I’m also a member of the Experimental Humanities sound cluster, and I edited this episode! So, I’m just going to add a couple of details to Laura’s introduction, to help orient you in your listening. This episode is roughly divided into four sections, brief sections. The first is basically how we got started, the second is what we did, the third is what we all got out of it, and what we thought was really great about it, and finally, what comes next. So since it was hard for us to get all of the members of the sound cluster together at the same time to do this, we ended up having to break it into two groups. So you’re going to hear a slight difference in the recording style and quality of those two different remenicenses. In the first, you’re going to hear the voices of me, Laura, who you met in the introduction, Olga Touloumi, who teaches architectural history here, Alex Benson, who’s in the literature program, and through Skype, which you will also hear, Maria Sonevytsky who used to teach ethnomusicology here at Bard, and last year migrated over to Berkeley. In the second group you will hear the voices of Matthew Deady, who is in the physics program, he actually just retired the other day, so, congratulations Matt, and you’ll hear Julianne Swartz in the art program, and you will once again hear Laura’s voice too.


Olga Touloumi: So—


Alex Benson: So—


Maria Sonevytsky: So—


Laura Kunreuther: Okay, in my memory, this is how it happened: We—Experimental Humanities got this big grant and in the grant, there was the idea of having these different clusters. And because of my work on radio, Maria asked me to join the Steering Committee, and so I volunteered to start one of the clusters and said, “I know that there are people on this campus who are interested in sound, this is a direction that, you know, my research is, is going,” even though I had written about radio, my (laughs) oddly enough I wasn’t so much focused on sound. And so I was like thinking about that, and so—


Olga Touloumi: You’re skipping steps there, Laura.


Laura Kunreuther: What was the step?


Olga Touloumi: No, but like I was thinking that like—you actually reached out to a bunch of people and like—


Laura Kunreuther: Yeah.


Olga Touloumi: —that’s what I don’t know. How did you know who to contact?


Laura Kunreuther: I contacted, well, I mean, we had a new ethnomusicologist, right? We have Danielle, who’s in Human Rights Radio, Alex and I had spoken—

Alex Benson: Mm-hmm.


Laura Kunreuther: —before about his research. We had Susan Merriam on the Experimental Humanities Steering Committee.


Danielle Riou: Oh, that’s right.


Laura Kunreuther: We have another faculty member who’s doing stuff on sound. We knew that Matthew was teaching acoustics, we—I knew that Julianne was doing sound sculpture, right? So—and then, I think Danielle recommended a few other people—like basically through word of mouth, I just contacted a bunch of people and said, “bring whoever you think would be interested if there are other people.”


Matthew Deady: I remember you actually finding me, coming to my office, and saying we’ve got this group getting together, and you listed out who the different people were, and you said, “I know you teach about sound and it would be interesting to have your perspective on these things as well.”


Julianne Swartz: I remember being really excited that Matthew was going to be there, because I’ve always wanted to—you know, I’ve heard about the acoustics class; it’s really aligned with some of my explorations and some of my teaching—


Matthew Deady: And the overlap of our student bodies is enormous.


Julianne Swartz: Enormous, yes, the overlap of our students. So I think Matthew was the big draw for me—


Laura Kunreuther: Yeah.


Julianne Swartz: —at first. And then when I got there, it was really fascinating to hear the perspectives of the different faculty.


Laura Kunreuther: We decided that we were going to meet to just get around a group of readings, right? I think we picked Emily Thompson’s—


Alex Benson: Soundscapes of Modernity


Laura Kunreuther: Right. We picked that intro, and then—


Olga Touloumi: I remember Jonathan Sterne’s reading on—


Laura Kunreuther: Right.


Olga Touloumi: —the shopping mall—


Maria Sonevytsky: Sounds Like the Mall of America.


Olga Touloumi: Yeah.


Laura Kunreuther: So we picked those two readings, and decided we would all get together and meet in the—you know, around the seminar table. And I think that was the beginning of the cluster. We did those academic readings, but then we also had some sound pieces we were listening to, and I think Danielle brought in some stuff that she was working on, and—


Danielle Riou: And then you came to my studio.


Laura Kunreuther: We came to your studio.


Danielle Riou: That was really fun.


Laura Kunreuther: That was really amazing.


Matthew Deady: I think it helps that all of us are used to teaching students who are not specialists. The—the level of non-dogmatism in that group was really impressive.


Laura Kunreuther: That was something we were all, in some ways, striving for.


Matthew Deady: I was coming just for interest, wanted to be engaged with good colleagues— and when I found out was—you know, we were actually dealing with a lot of similar issues and by learning each other’s perspectives we’re all gonna know a lot more on what we already work on.


Julianne Swartz: I think something that really helped us is that we were all curious about each other’s disciplines, and we had very active interest in the others’ perspectives.


Olga Touloumi: That group was very productive because somehow there were many micro- groups formed out of this one big group. Like, we decided to co-teach a class, Maria, and then this symposium also happened, and you were also teaching a class on—


Alex Benson: I was yeah—


Olga Touloumi: On sound—


Alex Benson: On sound in American Literature. 


Olga Touloumi: Yeah. Maybe conversation sprang from that group, I feel. So it was not only the symposium, it was just a culture around sound on campus.


Alex Benson: One session that we had two years ago that was great for me was when I was giving a conference paper and—


Laura Kunreuther: The Helen Keller—


Danielle Riou: Oh so good.

Alex Benson: The Helen Keller and W. E. B. Du Bois piece I was writing. And I was so grateful for that session because we had a great long forty-minute conversation—I go to the conference the next week, give a twenty-minute talk and get, you know there’s time for one question. Right? So like the only event where that got meaningful feedback was that group.


Maria Sonevytsky: The presence of the physicist in the room, you know, is one of the things that I think also made it so valuable because we could have those moments where we said “but actually what does resonance really mean?” (laughs) in like an acoustic sense and some of my favorite memories are of Mathew, kind of pausing and bringing out a spring, you know (laughs) and saying like “here’s how it works.”


Danielle Riou: Mhm—


Maria Sonevytsky: The interdisciplinary-ness of it is something that from—so you know I’m no longer at a small liberal arts college, and that’s one of the things I miss the most. ‘Cause I benefited so much from that kind of cross-fertilization of the ability to just so quickly reach out and say “I need, you know, a literary perspective on this question.” Or “I need an architectural historian to weigh in, or I need an anthropologist.”


Olga Touloumi: Which was actually kind of liberatory because you don’t have to make an argument about a discipline or—


Danielle Riou: Right.


Olga Touloumi: You don’t need to discipline the discipline.


Danielle Riou: Exactly.


Olga Touloumi: Or work against the discipline or like have the discipline as a ghost behind you, you know?

Everyone: Yeah—


Olga Touloumi: Like defining the conversation. You’re just like—oh I’m going to think about my work and my discipline through this material and through this phenomenon actually, not material, and see what comes out of it.


Alex Benson: Yeah. I was thinking, you know, when I went to graduate school, sound studies wasn’t something that people in literary studies were paying attention to—whatever extent—other people in other fields were. And so the sound cluster was in some ways my way into that field, even though we didn’t define ourselves super strictly as a sound studies group. But I got a sense of the field through it, and in some ways the Sound Symposium was almost my way out.


Olga Touloumi: I think there was also like a difficult coming back from the ending of the conference.


Laura Kunreuther: I think it’s—yeah, you know, it’s hard to come back.


Olga Touloumi: —yeah


Laura Kunreuther: That’s what you’re saying, it was the way out in a way too.


Olga Touloumi: Oh, that’s what you mean when you say the way out.


Alex Benson: Well they are separate but related, right? The question of like your own thinking about sound studies, and the question of like our practices as a group.


Olga Touloumi: Somehow it’s difficult because we are evolving, and then, what do you do with that? Like do you keep the same people or do you keep the same subject and change the people? Like, how do you move afterwards? And we never actually had this conversation—


Laura Kunreuther: I think this is a broader question of how does an intellectual group evolve, right? Where part of what also brought us together was planning this event, that we had a project to do together.


Olga Touloumi: But I am thinking it is so wasteful to, like, build community and then the topic leaves, but then you don’t do anything with the community you have built.


Alex Benson: Right, as if the disciplinary category is more important than the conversation that you have been developing.


Danielle Riou: It’s a post-sound cluster—




Laura Kunreuther: Sound!




Laura Kunreuther: We have to have a post-sound.


Alex Benson: Would that just be an echo-cluster?


Laura Kunreuther: Yeah!


Alex Benson: If that were backwards sound—




Laura Kunreuther: Echo, that’s exactly it.


Danielle Riou: Hi again everyone, Danielle here. I just wanted to say that I had to end this episode on a laughing note because I think it’s fair to say that we spent a lot of our time in our sound cluster laughing a lot, even though we were really serious about our reading and thinking together. We did have a lot of fun. I also quickly wanted to add that none of our discussion that you heard was really scripted. Which I think is also very much in keeping with the spirit of our group. I think the very spontaneous and rich connections that always came out of our meetings were the central feature of the cluster and why it was so appealing for so many of us. You know, combined the humor, the genuine interest, and the collegiality made the group really special, certainly to me. So thank you all for listening. And a very, very special thanks to Laura Kunreuther, who led our sound cluster for those years, and to all of the members of the sound cluster, past, present, and future.


EH Out Loud is produced at Bard’s Center for Experimental Humanities by Krista Caballero, Corinna Cape, and Bird Cohen. With season two produced in collaboration with me, Laura Kunreuther and the EH sound cluster. Sound editing and music by me, Laura Kunreuther, Ariel West, and Bird Cohen. Transcription by Anna Hallett Gutierrez and Ariel West. You can find out more about Experimental Humanities at Bard by visiting that’s Thank you.