The Listening Artist: On Listening as an Artistic Practice beyond Sound Art

The Listening Artist: On Listening as an Artistic Practice beyond Sound Art

PhD Research Degree

Dan Scott

Completed 2017

This study’s original contributions to knowledge are evidencing that:
a) There is the position of the listening artist that is a distinct practice to that of the sound artist, operating with quite different political, philosophical and aesthetic concerns. b) Sound art’s canon of listening is insufficient for accounting for the range of listening at play in such practice.

This study contributes to sound art’s debates on listening and advocates for the position of the listening artist. It begins with an overview of listening within sound art and explores the canon of listening within the discipline as associated with writers and practitioners such as Theodor Adorno, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Pierre Schaeffer and Hildegard Westerkamp. Using Scott’s own work as a case study the efficacy and relevance of this canon to practice are critically appraised. The key finding from this initial research is that sound art’s canonical listenings are relevant and useful in particular contexts but do not account for many of the social and inter-personal aspects of listening present in the works explored. This is due to many of the modes and strategies of listening in the canon being concerned with a musical understanding of listening as a means of following abstract sonic discourse, and also to a reliance on phenomenology as a heuristic tool for analysing this listening. These approaches result in a tendency to understand listening as an atomist process (Lipari, 2014) – a dynamic between an individual and a sound, based in notions of skill and technique – rather than a holistic ‘back- and forth-' (Helin, 2012) between listeners, and with the wider social and political context that affords that listening.

The thesis goes on to propose a practice of listening that operates beyond sound art, one that can be accounted for through analysis of dialogical and participatory art practices (Kester, 2004. Bishop, 2012), communications studies (Bakhtin, 1975. Helin, 2012.), philosophy (Corradi Fiumara, 1995. Lipari, 2014), gender theory (Ratliffe, 2005. Lloyd, 2009), literary theory (Hume, 2012, Brittingham Furlonge, 2013) and artistic practice (Rajni Shah, Sonia Boyce, Ultra-Red). This position of the listening artist rejects modernist and post-modernist models of art-making and reception and embraces an approach based on communication and communality. The study proposes ways in which this listening praxis can critically engage with existing artistic practice, can be a methodology for developing new work and can constitute an artistic output in and of itself. Scott offers a number of his own projects as further case studies, exploring the nascent position of the listening artist within his work and analysing his own trajectory from being a sound artist to becoming a listening artist.


A digital copy of this thesis is available from the UAL Research Online repository. A hard copy is also available at the LCC Library as a reference holding, visitors can arrange access to the Library by appointment.

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