Theses Doctoral

Listening with the Unknown: Unforming the World with Slave Ears and the Musical Works Not-In-Between (2020) The Sound of Listening (2020) The Sound of Music (2022)

Cox, Jessie

Advances in technologies of voice profiling shed new light on questions of listening and its entanglement with antiblackness as a structuring paradigm of modernity. To contest current conceptions of listening with regards to the question of race and antiblackness while also shining light on the potentials offered by blackness, this dissertation engages listening at three distinct sites that are entangled with this modern question of voice profiling AI. In the process, this dissertation elaborates on the ethical stakes involved in listening itself.

Chapter 1 excavates the way in which the ears of enslaved Black lives were ritualized. It centers an analysis of the role of the punishment of ear cropping and how this performed both a claim over slaves’ belonging and an inhibition on their freedom. Scholarship from Hebrew law aids in uncovering the meaning of the specific form of punishment. The chapter concludes by comparing the conception of slaves’ ears to Black artistic expressions such as Harriet Jacobs’s various methods of narration in Incidents of a Slave Girl and Blind Tom Wiggins’ unique use of clusters and graphic notation in Battle of Manassas, so as to demonstrate their methods of resistance and refusal to a claimed all-encompassing regime of listening.

Chapter 2 engages modern notions of sound and listening. The way in which sound is theorized and engaged in modern digital technologies is entangled with the conception of what listening is and what it entails. Hermann von Helmholtz provides an axis after which sound and listening, as well as the relation between an inner world of perceptions and an outer world of sensations, has to be engaged as a question of listening as entangled in societal questions. The chapter critically elaborates alongside questions of categorical distinction in sound, such as the use of skull shapes as referents for AI listening, instrument classification systems, and the general question of the form of sound, or sound as object.

The concluding Chapter 3 discusses, alongside Sylvia Wynter’s work and Roscoe Mitchell’s piece S II Examples (date) the kinds of questions we must pose in the development of modern AI listening technologies to move past antiblackness. Immanuel Kant’s theorizing of race and his influence on Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s classification of skulls relate tomodern voice profiling AI technology directly through the question of using cranial shapes. Wynter’s work challenges both a turn to varieties that do not allow the addressing of structural antiblackness, and a continuation of claims to proper knowledge on the basis of antiblackness. Ultimately, Wynter aids us in hearing Mitchell’s continual shapeshifting practice on the saxophone as a proposal towards a refiguring of our conception of sound, listening, and us.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lewis, George E.
D.M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
June 12, 2024