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Problematizing Sound Methods
Through Music Research-Creation:
David Ben Shannon
and Sarah E. Truman
In this article, we take up feminist new materialist thought in relation to our music research-creation practice to problematize the
white, en/abled, cis-masculine, and Euro-Western methodological orientation often inherited with sound methods. We think
with our music research-creation practice to activate a feminist new materialist politics of approach, unsettling sound studies’
inheritances that seek to separate,essentialize,naturalize/neutralize,capture,decontextualize, and re-present. We unsettle these
inheritances with six propositions: imbricate,stratify,provoke,inject,contextualize, and more-than-represent. These propositions, and
this article’s uptake of research-creation, hold implications for scholars interested in critically enacting sound studies research as
well as qualitative and post qualitative research in general.
research-creation, arts-based methods, feminist new materialisms, critical theory, methods in qualitative inquiry,
We are Oblique Curiosities: a glitch-folk/electronica music
duo. As practicing composers, instrumentalists, producers, and
academics, we think through theory, method, and art as
research-creation. In this article, we take up feminist new mate-
rialisms in relation to our research-creation practice to proble-
matize the white, en/abled, cis-masculine, and Euro-Western
methodological orientation often inherited with sound meth-
ods. We think through and with our music research-creation
practice to activate a feminist new materialist politics of
approach, unsettling the inheritances of sound studies that seek
textualize, and re-present sound. We formulate this politics of
approach into six propositions: imbricate,stratify,provoke,
inject,contextualize, and more-than-represent. These proposi-
tions, and this article’s uptake of research-creation, hold impli-
cations for scholars interested in critically enacting sound
studies research, as well as for qualitative and post
qualitative research more generally.
Problematizing Sound Methods Through
Research-creation has been well-theorized through visual
(e.g., Leduc, 2016; Myers, 2017), performative and gestural
(e.g., Manning, 2016a; Springgay, 2011; Springgay &
Zaliwska, 2017; Tallbear, 2017), and multimedia, narrative,
and textual registers (e.g., Dokumaci, 2018; Loveless, 2019;
Truman, 2016a, 2016b). We have written on research-creation
as a method(ology) elsewhere (Truman & Shannon, 2018) and
so only briefly summarize it here. Research-creation is the
doing of art as research and theory (Truman & Springgay,
2015) rather than the use of artistic methods to disseminate
traditional research. Natalie Loveless (in Truman et al., 2019)
has described “imbricated relationships between form and con-
tent” (p. 230) as central to research-creation. For Stephanie
Springgay (in Truman et al., 2019), research-creation “is
grounded not in a set of prescriptive criteria but ontological,
epistemological, ethical and political attunements to creating a
different world” (p. 227). We have previously described
Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
David Ben Shannon, Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester
Metropolitan University, Birley Building, 53 Bonsall Street, Manchester M15
6GX, United Kingdom.
International Journal of Qualitative Methods
Volume 19: 1–12
ªThe Author(s) 2020
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mov[ing] away from approaches to qualitative research that
assume data can be collected, extracted [and] represented, and
towards an affective, emergent, relational and more-than-
representational approach to doing-research. (Truman & Shannon,
2018, p. 62)
Arts-based approaches to conducting and/or disseminating
research are proliferating in qualitative research’s uptake of
the ontological turn (which includes some of the theoretical
resources introduced below as feminist new materialisms).
This research is often framed as post qualitative research
(Lather & St. Pierre, 2013; MacLure, 2013). Research-
creation emphasizes rigorous transdisciplinarity. Springgay’s
(2008) notion of living inquiry is essential to the rigor of
research-creation. To do transdisciplinary work, it is impor-
tant to be rigorous in each discipline (Loveless, 2019): To do
art, you need to be rigorous in your art. It would be unreason-
able to suddenly decide to ‘do parameciums,’ spend a day
playing with the centrifuge in a genetics laboratory and then
expect to be ‘doing biology.’
Similarly, taking up an unfa-
miliar art form in order to conduct or disseminate (post) qua-
litative research can undermine both artistic practice and
research. As Springgay (in Truman et al., 2019) writes, “[t]he
arts are typically undervalued in the academy. And yet, they
are often appropriated by researchers in order to justify or
exemplify ‘alternative’ practices of doing research” (p.
249). We are experienced artists in our own right and were
so before we came to academia. We are not exceptional in that
there are many other artists in academia and even more
researchers who work with artists to enact artistic research.
However, in theorizing our research-creation practice through
methodological orientations that are shared with arts-based
post qualitative research, we feel it is important to emphasize
artistic rigor as determinative of both research and theoreti-
Feminist New Materialisms
Our theoretical orientation to sound-based methods (i.e., our
methodology) is informed by feminist new materialisms, a
group of theoretical orientations collated post hoc from femin-
ist thinkers in a variety of intersecting materialist fields includ-
ing feminist science and technology studies, environmental
humanities, the life sciences, affect theories, gender and cul-
tural studies, and, more recently, qualitative research meth-
odologies (Truman, 2019). Drawing from Snaza et al. (2016)
and Sarah E. Truman (2019), we conceptualize the feminist
new materialisms through six interlocking aspects:
expanding our definition of agency to include humans,
nonhuman animals, nonanimal life, and nonliving mat-
ter (e.g., Barad, 2007; Bennett, 2010; Chen, 2012; Keel-
ing, 2019; Kim, 2015);
understanding entities, including humans and human
subjectivity, as materializing from an entanglement of
bodies and forces (e.g., Barad, 2007);
considering theories of affect (e.g., Ahmed, 2004; Chen,
2012; Ngai, 2007);
drawing from theories in the physical and life sciences
decentering language and the linguistic representation of
research findings (e.g., Barad, 2007; McCormack, 2008;
attending to the materiality of marginalization, includ-
ing racializing, dis/abling, classing, gendering, and
queer-phobic processes (e.g., Chen, 2012; Garland-
Thomson, 2011; Mitchell et al., 2019; Weheliye, 2014).
An increasing body of social science research draws from
feminist new materialisms. As theoretical orientations, feminist
new materialisms—and the associated ontological and posthu-
man turns—carry implications for how research is enacted (i.e.,
methodology). Scholars interested in this theoretical turn have
argued that sedimenting method and analysis before entering the
field assumes an independent data that is “out there,” waiting for
researchers to “discover” it, while also predetermining what the
results of that inquiry could be (Manning, 2016b; Springgay &
Truman, 2018a); such an approach to research is incommensu-
rate with a methodological orientation that considers entities
(including the researcher) as emerging in the research milieu.
This incommensurability has charged qualitative researchers to
reconsider what data do, how they are generated, and how they
are represented (Weaver & Snaza, 2017). However, Springgay
and Truman (2018a) suggest that this incommensurability need
not be met with “different” or a doing away with of methods;
rather, it is the orientation—what Springgay and Truman call the
(in)tension—to method, including “the logic of procedure and
extraction,” that should be undone (p. 204, italics in original).
Some applications of the ontological and new materialist
turns in qualitative research have also been critiqued (before
they even turned) for their erasure of race and investment in a
pre-social and pre-prejudicial materiality that seeks to ignore
patterns of marginalization (Jackson, 2013, 2015; Weheliye,
2014) and erase the already-erased (King, 2017, 2019). We
follow others (Colebrook, 2014; King, 2017, 2019) in arguing
that turning to the more-than-human should not manifest as
turning away from marginalizing processes of racism, ableism,
misogyny, and queer- and transphobia but rather as the decen-
tering of the capitalist-era ‘human,’ or what Sylvia Wynter
(2003) calls “the overrepresented modality of being human”
(p. 317). As such, we follow many others in suggesting that
scholarship that draws from feminist new materialisms must
attend to intersectional feminisms or else risk recentering
white, en/abled, cis-masculinity (A
˚sberg et al., 2015; Gerrard
et al., 2017; Jackson, 2015; Snaza et al., 2016; Springgay &
Truman, 2018b, 2019; Thompson, 2017b; Truman, 2019).
Recent years have seen a rapid proliferation of qualitative
research that employs sound-based methods. This scholarship
has made multiple contributions through its disruption of Euro-
2International Journal of Qualitative Methods
Western ocular centrism (e.g., Gershon, 2017; Moten, 2003,
2018; Pickens, 2019; Weheliye, 2005). Concomitantly, this has
contributed to the legitimizing of sensory ways of knowing
(e.g., Feld, 1996; Pink, 2009) as well as politicizing the ‘wrong
side’ of epistemological binaries (Steingo & Sykes, 2019).
Long-standing critical uptake of sound has theorized pro-
cesses of sonic marginalization along lines of race (e.g., Dou-
glass, 1845/2004; Eidsheim, 2011, 2019; Hill, 2013; Stoever,
2016), gender (e.g., Thompson, 2016), and (dis)ability (Fried-
ner & Helmreich, 2012; Friedner & Tausig, 2019; Kafer, 2013).
More recently, sound scholars have drawn from the theoretical
possibilities of the feminist new materialisms (e.g., Thompson,
2017b). Concomitantly, a broader interest in the ontological
turn has explored sound as affective (e.g., Clough, 2013; Gal-
lagher, 2016; Gershon, 2013; Henriques, 2010; Thompson,
2017a; Thompson & Biddle, 2013); more-than- (e.g., Truman
& Shannon, 2018) or nonrepresentational (e.g., Gallagher &
Prior, 2014); in excess of, or more-than-, human (e.g., Scrim-
shaw, 2013); and as ontological vibration (e.g., Gershon, 2017;
In this article, we will contend that there remains an uncri-
tical methodological legacy too easily inherited with sound-
based empirical methods. These inheritances rely on a logic
of extraction, sapping the sonic of its unique analytical poten-
tial and reinscribing colonial and representational orientations
to method. Scholarship that draws on these inheritances
misses out on many of the analytical advantages afforded
by sound, through reinscribing the oft-critiqued researcher–
researched relations constitutive of the ocular Euro-Western
philosophical method; in other words, such research might as
well be visual for all the difference sound makes. We find
that feminist new materialist methodologies productively pro-
blematize these inheritances, precisely because there is a
broad incompatibility between the ocular-centric inheritances
of sound-based methods and feminist new materialist
We consider methodology here as a politics of approach.A
politics of approach is the ethico-political perspective a meth-
odology implies. Careful uptake of that methodology should
bring that ethico-political perspective to bear as an orienta-
tion—or (in)tension—to method (Springgay & Truman,
We wonder here what politics of approach the feminist
new materialisms imply, not just in their feminism but in
their materialism. The sonic inheritances we highlight are
insidious. As we will come to argue, their approach to
method seems self-evident in many sonic methods, in addi-
tion to manifesting as material features of phonographic tech-
nology. As such, it is easy to tumble into taking them up.
And—because of their close interrelation—if you take up one
of them, you take up all of them. Through our thinking and
composing (i.e., researching-creating) as Oblique Curiosities,
we have theorized six contingent and interlocking inheri-
tances in sound methods, which we will spend the remainder
of this section unpacking. These inheritances encourage the
sonic researcher to:
1. separate the researcher from the researched sonic
2. essentialize sound as something that preexisted the
3. naturalize/neutralize the sonic environment;
4. capture the most pristine possible rendition of the sonic
5. decontextualize sound from other, non-sonic features of
the sonic experience; and
6. re-present the sonic experience.
While specifically framing sound method(ology) with these
inheritances, we consider them equally relevant to some appli-
cations of post qualitative research. In other words, while our
primary concern in this article is with sound methods’ metho-
dological inheritances, other researchers may find that these
same inheritances haunt (some) post qualitative uptakes of the
feminist new materialisms, as unpacked above.
Separate. Sound method can situate the researcher as separate to
the recorded soundscape. While noted sound studies scholar
Jonathan Sterne (2003) posits that “hearing is a sense that
immerses us in the world, while vision removes us from it”
(p. 15), many approaches to recording sound hold the sonic
world “at a distance” from the researcher. In such approaches,
the recordist-researcher uses a microphone to capture whatever
sound can be found in a location. The auditory presence of the
researcher in these recordings is associated with the failure of
the researcher to pristinely capture and represent an already
essentialized sound. As such the recordist-researcher is notably
silent (Gallagher, 2015; Wright, 2017).
Thinking with the feminist new materialisms would under-
stand the sonic milieu as an ever-expanding reverberation of
bodies-affecting-bodies (Evens, 2005); “the sound of the body
is the sound of the other but it is also the sound of the same”
(Kapchan, 2015, p. 33), across which the “agency” of the sound
is distributed (Ceraso, 2018). We suggest that this inextricable
entanglement of researcher-and-researched, foundational to
new materialist thought, is not compatible with approaches to
sound that silence the researcher. For instance, Karen Barad’s
(2007) agential realism describes the ‘intra-action’ of multiple
parts of an entangled whole rather than the interaction of sep-
arate, bounded individual researchers and research subjects.
Similarly, theories of affect—in which each actant is con-
stantly, simultaneously affecting and being affected (Lara
et al., 2017; Massumi, 2015)—or Rosi Braidotti’s (2013) ‘web
of interrelations’—which “mark the contemporary subjects’
relationship to their multiple ecologies” (p.98)—describe the
impossibility of a separately constituted researcher or
researched. In other words, then, a feminist new materialist
approach to sound emphasizes the nonvisual, inseparable co-
constitution of researcher and researched.
Essentialize. As described in the previous section, feminist new
materialisms emphasize the emergent entanglement of
researcher-and-researched, with neither preexisting the
Shannon and Truman 3
research encounter as a discrete entity (Manning, 2016b; Mas-
sumi, 2002). This separation of the recordist-researcher from
the recorded soundscape essentializes sound. We understand
this essentialism as inscribing a sound with distinct properties
that preexist the research encounter. We have already proble-
matized this essentialism for materially separating researcher
from researched. Here, we discuss its concomitant politics of
approach: specifically, its colonial, “anthological” (Vazquez,
2013) understanding of sound, and its aural inscription of ines-
sential traits of race and gender.
Writing specifically on voice, Nina Sun Eidsheim (2019)
argues that there is no essential, knowable quality to the ‘thick
event’ of sound before its reception; rather, sound is a
“vibrational practice, a practice that is materially dependent
and contingent” (loc. 870). For Samantha Pinto (2016), there
is a colonial masculism to sound method that assumes the sonic
field as discrete and therefore master-able. In emphasizing
music, Pinto instead takes up Alexandra T. Vazquez’s (2013)
call to “listen in detail” to a more limited range of sounds; this
is in opposition to what Vazquez dubs the colonial
“anthological impulse” (p. 59), which seeks to extract and col-
lect as much of the field as possible. We might also suggest that
it is the oft-critiqued citational legacy of sound studies—fre-
quently and uncritically drawing from largely white, male and
en/abled theorists (Ceraso, 2018; Stadler, 2015; Stoever, 2016)
despite the long engagement with sonority in the work of
scholars—that informs this brand of pho-
nographic flaneurism (Lashua, 2006), or what Sterne (2015)
calls sound studies’ “creeping normalism” (p. 73).
The essentializing of sound is unmaterialist because it
ignores the ways in which sound and listener are always
already co-constitutive. For scholars such as Eidsheim (2011,
2019), Jennifer Lynn Stoever (2016), Regina Bradley (2014),
and Marie Thompson (2016), this essentializing is also unfe-
minist; understanding sound as essential facilitates the exten-
sion of inessential racializing—and gendering—processes
from the skin and onto the voice; in other words, blackness
or femininity can be heard as sounding ‘like’ one voice or set
of sounds and ‘unlike’ another. Despite not being a new argu-
ment—Franz Boas (1889, cited in Sterne, 2015, p. 72) sug-
gested that European anthropologists could not understand
how to hear Indigenous languages 130 years ago—essentialism
remains a persistent feature of sonic inquiry. In this way, the
politics of approach drawing on the feminist new materialisms
should seek to unsettle rather than naturalize/neutralize this
Naturalize/neutralize. Arguments have long reverberated within
sound studies over the neutrality, or otherwise, of sound and its
reception (e.g., Chandola, 2012). This reverberation is ampli-
fied within the move to decenter the anthropocentric listening
subject in new materialism-informed sound scholarship
The flattening of voice and music into a wider, anthological,
neutral sonic is distinctly unfeminist due to the ways in which it
ignores the sonic backgrounding and foregrounding of
populations (Hill, 2013; Tchumkam, 2019). For Shannon
(2019), “turning the attention of the ear (or the microphone)
away from music and voice, and towards the sonic, relies on a
universalist assumption that white aurality is capable of hearing
whatever a neutral sonic might sound like” (p. 98); in other
words, to essentialize the sonic is to naturalize/neutralize it as
always objective and nonpolitical. Yet for Allie Martin (2019),
subjectivity matters to sound method, as no microphone posi-
tioning could ever be neutral; she situates soundwalking as a
Black feminist method specifically because of the ways in
which subjectivity determines sound method. Thus, a claim
to sonic neutrality is a deliberate elision of the material man-
ifestation of subjectivity in sound method. Relatedly, then—as
Thompson (2017b) argues specifically of sound studies, and as
others have argued more broadly (Truman, 2019)—the femin-
ist new materialist move to decenter the human can recenter the
natural/neutrality of the white, en/abled, cis-masculine audi-
tioning human: There is nothing neutral about a neutral sonic.
For Stoever (2016), whiteness is notorious for assuming its
own neutrality, while Poppy de Souza (2018) describes the
willful dis-capacity of “white ears” to attend to the “acoustic
violence of racism” (p. 464); hearing through the listening ear
is assumed to be a neutral process, naturalizing the racializing
and gendering assemblage as essential features of the racialized
body (Weheliye, 2014). Similarly, Vazquez’s (2013)
“anthological impulse” relies on the capacitation of the (white,
male) sound studies scholar, not just to master and collect (i.e.,
colonize) the entire sonic field but to do so from a neutral,
objective perspective. We would further suggest that this flat-
tening ignores the ways in which white non-neutrality and
colonialism is already a material feature of place, or what Cam
Scott (2018) critiques as the assumed “silence, vacancy, or
isolation” that precedes colonial involvement (para. 13). A
feminist new material politics of approach would take up the
ways in which oppression is a material feature of both the sonic
field and the phonographic apparatus; in other words, a move to
de-anthropocentrize sonic inquiry should not justify ignoring
the non-neutrality of anthropocentric listening.
Capture. Essentializing sound drives a technological fetishism
in some sound studies scholarship, whereby the essentialized
sound could be captured and preserved if only the microphone
was sophisticated enough. For Julian Henriques (2011), sound
is a “transitory event in time, rather than an often more perma-
nent mark on a visual surface” (loc. 200). Alexander Weheliye
(2005) describes phonographic practices as an attempt to make
a sounding outlast the sounder. Some phonographic practices,
then, seek to arrest the sonorous fleeting event so as to capture
it; the recordist imperiously (Drever, 1999; Wright, 2017)
enters the field intent on quelling motion and capturing sound
in fulfilling the “anthological impulse” (Vazquez, 2013). This
intention can lead the sound-based researcher to a fetishistic
interest in phonographic fidelity (Drever, 2002; Gallagher &
Prior, 2014): The more competent the microphone, the more
capable it is believed to successfully—anthologically—capture
the essentialized sonic ‘out there’ even as it tries to unfaithfully
4International Journal of Qualitative Methods
uncapture the separated recordist. This presents two impossi-
bilities. First, nothing is actually captured: The sound is still out
there, but a trace has been taken. The other is that what is
“captured” (or traced) is still contingent: As Joshua Glasgow
(2007) writes, “Transparency is impossible, irrespective of
technological achievement” (p. 163, italics in original). This
technological emphasis relies on a globally Northern perspec-
tive (Steingo & Sykes, 2019), where such technological provi-
sion is, for the moment at least, more readily available.
The coal is not the mountain. In failing to capture the milieu
in its entirety, it is changing the milieu; this is, as Loveless
(2019) summarizes, not a failure that “adequate perspective—
the capacity to somehow see [or hear] better—might correct”
(p. 26) but rather the guaranteed outcome of extractive
approaches to research (Springgay & Truman, 2018a). The
politics of capturing the “pristine” as an ontological possibility
relies on a separation,essentialism, and neutralizing of sound,
the same extractive processes that envisage the terra nullius—
or pristine landscape—that is available to be occupied, cap-
tured, and colonized (Scott, 2018). We will move on to suggest
that this extractive capture conflates sonic experience with the
reception of vibratory sound, decontextualizing it of the more-
than-sonic features of sonority.
Phonographic technology, as with all research methods,
develops within a material-semiotic framework: Particular
orientations to method are material features of sound technol-
ogy as deployed in sound studies. As argued above, we suggest
that a careful engagement with the feminism and the materi-
alism of the feminist new materialisms may predispose the
researcher to a politics of approach (although we are not so
¨ve as to suggest at the impossibility of “removing politics”:
Poor reading is always possible, and whiteness often finds a
way). We consider a politics of approach here to suggest that
the repetition of logics of sonic extraction is not only unfemi-
nist and not particularly new, it’s also not materialist. Weheliye
(2005) describes the ways in which Black music has driven the
development of phonographic technology. When co-opted as a
research method in the social sciences and humanities, how-
ever, this technology morphs into alignment with the inherited
methodological framework that we are critiquing here. This
then allows the reinscription of the inheritances we critique
throughout this article. In other words, inherited orientations
to method appear as natural-seeming features of the research
Decontextualize. When sound is essentialized and then captured
(or traced) with phonographic technology, it is decontextua-
lized: stripped of the “more-than-sonic” properties that shape
sonic experience. These features might include political con-
text. For instance, Michael Quintero (2019) considers the Afro-
Colombian practice of playing music at ear-splitting volumes
as a “kind of counterrepertoire to spoken language” (loc. 516),
“a stopgap measure” (loc. 3456) in the face of institutional
violence directed toward a community “placed at the limits
of speech” (loc. 3458). The counterrepertoire complicates the
affects circulated by the music in ways that cannot be traced
phonographically. As Oblique Curiosities, we have elsewhere
(Truman & Shannon, 2018) theorized the ways in which sound
might coalesce with other environmental, social, and emotional
factors: “That which exceeds audition is constitutive of audi-
tory experience” (Steingo & Sykes, 2019, loc. 503, italics in
original). Similarly, Monique Charles (2018) considers musical
genre from multiple vantage points as musicological discourse
analysis (MDA); through MDA, Charles suggests that genre is
a ‘constellation’ of intersectional histories, narratives, and
institutionally, technologically and sociopolitically mediated
The doubling of inaudibility that neutralizes, then, is further
compounded by disregarding the more-than-sonic: “this inaud-
ibility, which is beyond the capacity of even the most sophis-
ticated phonographic technology to register in the soundscape,
remains audible” (Shannon, 2019, p. 101).
Re-present. Marinos Koutsomichalis (2013) wonders how accu-
rate captured/decontextualized phonographic research methods
can be as representational artifacts when they cannot “preserve
the original semantics and subliminal significances of some-
one’s encounter with an acoustic environment” (para. 11). As
Owen Chapman (2015) posits, the reductionism of sound
method “is not an essential quality of the practice or technology
involved, but rather a question of disposition and attitude
around the thing produced” (p. 11).
Yet the problematic and politics of representationalism—
which situate the researcher as removed from what they have
researched, and in many ways create the conditions of possi-
bility for all of these inheritances—are commonplace in sound
studies as well as qualitative research more broadly (e.g.,
MacLure, 2013). This problematic is also constitutive of cen-
turies of white (mis)representations of marginalized popula-
tions. For instance, popular media portrayals of Indigenous
sound, or what Dustin Tahmahkera (2017) critiques as the
“made-up stuff of non-Native imaginaries that all too often
makes up the popular ‘sonic wallpaper’ of Indianness” (para.
8, italics in original).
We began this section by embedding our own practice as Obli-
que Curiosities within research-creation. Through this practice,
we have troubled how sound methods often rely on inherited
orientations to method(ology), or what we call “inheritances”.
These inheritances are frequently inspired by colonial legacies
and a white, cis-masculine epistemological emphasis. We have
problematized these inheritances with reference to feminist
new materialisms, which we have defined in this article as
de-privileging the human, attending to the relational and affec-
tive, engaging with the physical and life sciences, and decen-
tering language and representation, while maintaining a
feminist approach that attends to race, ability, gender, and
class. We have elucidated six of these inheritances as (in)ten-
sions to method that: separate,essentialize,neutralize,capture,
decontextualize, and re-present.
Shannon and Truman 5
Our research-creation practice, then, adopts feminist new
materialism as a methodological orientation to sound-based
methods in order to conduct research that eschews the proce-
dural and extractional, produce research outputs that are
more-than-representational, and to align our work with an
anti-racist, anti-ableist, and anti-misogynist politics of
approach. In the next section, we offer propositions formulated
through our research-creation practice to explicate doing sound
Oblique Curiosities: Extreme Explications
(Don’t separate): Imbricate!
(Don’t naturalize/neutralize) : Provoke!
(Don’t capture) : Stratify!
(Don’t extract) : Inject!
(Don’t decontextualize) : Contextualize!
(Don’t represent) : More-than-represent!
In this section, we think through the above propositions for
unsettling the inheritances of sound method. We do so through
our music research-creation practice as glitch-folk/electronica
band Oblique Curiosities. We have played music together since
2011. However, we created the band during Queer the Landscape,
a 100-km walking-composing project between Melrose, Scot-
land, and Lindisfarne, England, in the summer of 2015, during
which we wrote songs as more-than-representations of the expe-
rience of undertaking a long walk in the English countryside. As
Oblique Curiosities, we continue to research with the original
walk and compositions as well as with the wider cultural milieu.
Our practice is research-creation; it is creative practice for its own
sake but is also qualitative research into the wider cultural milieu
that we find ourselves in. We write lyrics, apply melodic, harmo-
nic, and temporal structures, and arrange, program, record, and
perform them in Digital Performer.
Through conducting this project, we also found ourselves
researching research-creation: As well as a method of creative
practice and qualitative research, research-creation also
researches method and methodology. Specifically, in this arti-
cle, we find ourselves researching the methodology of sound
studies and how the practice of a method (e.g., songwriting)
researches that research method.
Here is a link to three of our songs. Wouldn’t That Be Sexy?
is from our walking-composing research project Queer the
Landscape;Alpha Centauri and Propel are from our ongoing
practice as Oblique Curiosities (our glitch-folk/electronica duo,
which emerged through Queer the Landscape). You’re wel-
come to listen to others. We don’t expect these songs to be
heard neutrally: They will, obviously, be heard differently by
different listeners. That is part of the point (and value) of more-
Lyrics for each song are included through the link. We also
include a written description for d/Deaf readers or readers with
sensory processing differences.
We conceptualize our practice in this context (i.e., an academic
paper) as a set of extreme explications. We are not suggesting
that all sound scholarship should be music research-creation,
which relies on (in this milieu) our privilege: skills, time, and
economic privilege, not to mention the cis-white privilege of
being able to safely tumble about the countryside while com-
posing. Rather, by stretching these propositions to their most
extreme manifestation in music research-creation, we theorize
how sound method inheritances might be unsettled. Other scho-
lars and/or artists indirectly invoke these propositions in rela-
tion to sound research, in different registers and through
different theorizations. A selection of this scholarship is
referred to in illustrating each proposition.
(Don’t Naturalize/Neutralize): Provoke!
Rather than repeating the sonic backgrounding of already
inaudible populations, we hope to provoke the politics of who
or what gets foregrounded. Our music composition practice
provokes the wider social—racist, ableist, misogynist, queer-
phobic—milieu into the sonic field (where it always already
Martin (2019) explores how the gentrification of Washing-
ton, DC, silences and displaces, having the effect of making the
space “louder,” through the expansion of entertainment facili-
ties, yet “quieter” through noise abatement policies that target
Black bodyminds. She does so through phonographic field
recordings, which must also contend with her own attempts
to keep herself safe as a Black woman—an ‘expert listener’
to anti-Black racism (de Souza, 2018)—walking alone. Mar-
tin’s work, while adopting some of the most commonplace
sound methods, does so to provoke consideration of the ways
in which sound is always (non-neutrally) generated in, and
heard through, systems of oppression, white supremacy, and
violence. After Springgay and Truman (2018a), Martin’s
(in)tension toward a well-worn method (i.e., sound walking)
activates a politics of approach consistent with a feminist new
Alternatively, other sound scholars provoke patterns of mar-
ginalization by unsettling them. Music collective We Levitate
(Brown et al., 2018) celebrates Black girlhood. Through their
music, they seek to make “Black girlhood differently than what
systemic oppression calls for” (p. 396). Meanwhile, our own
song Alpha Centauri seeks to provoke a different sonic futurity;
We draw from the (re)surgence of anti-trans and queerphobic
abuses in Brexit-era Britain to speculate on the audibility of a
queer-affirmative galactic confederacy.
(Don’t Capture): Inject!
Our song Wouldn’t That Be Sexy? was composed during a long
walk. While some of our songs include repurposed recordings
from the walk, most (including Wouldn’t That Be Sexy?) don’t.
Yet we don’t think that Wouldn’t That Be Sexy? sounds any less
6International Journal of Qualitative Methods
like the countryside than a recording of bird songs and boot-
crunches, no matter how good the microphone we used was. As
we have argued, this is because we think you can never truly
extract and capture what the countryside ‘sounds like.’
Sound designer and audio engineer Paola Cossermelli Mes-
sina’s (2019) phonographic walking project explores how the
microphone’s elision of gender, race, and queerness natura-
lizes/neutralizes the performance of “sonic citizenship.” For
Messina, a microphone is inadequate to the task of capturing
these more-than-sonic features of sonority. She gives the exam-
ple of a sudden encounter with CCTV cameras: Finding herself
the subject of surveillance is “quite inconspicuous” on the
soundwalk’s audio recording (para. 14). Messina’s commen-
tary and choices as a recordist inject the lived experience of
gender, race, and queerness and their “complication” through
“fear, segregation, and vigilance” (para. 2), into the audio
recording. The result is a collection of walks that map, but also
optimistically seek to “bridge,” her uneven sonic citizenships.
(Don’t Essentialize): Stratify!
Writing on d/Deaf music, Jeannette Jones (2016) asks: “If lis-
tening is more than what happens with the ears, what does it
entail?” (p. 67). We consider the sonic ‘thick event’ of sound
(Eidsheim, 2019) as strata: different registers of audibility and
inaudibility layered on top of one another. Rather than seek to
essentialize any one layer (specifically that which is capturable
with a microphone) as ‘the’ sound, we stratify the thick event as
multiple layers of sonic and more-than-sonic sonority. In stra-
tifying—rather than essentializing—sonic experience, the
songs sound like us doing a walk. They sound like us compos-
ing with the cultural milieu of Brexit, Boris, and Trump. They
sound like us composing with “already-felts” (Manning,
2016b; Truman & Shannon, 2018): the baggage of ex-
relationships, dog shit smells, creepy doilies, charred ferns, and
our mutual obsession with Doctor Who. In other words, these
considerations all weighed heavily on our minds; we’re
embedded in our own inheritance.
Another example of stratification can be found in Michael
Reiley McDermott’s (2019) sonic art-research project; Echo-
zoo combines cryptozoology, field recording, sound design,
and deep listening to “reimagine” the sounds of extinct species.
Through the project, McDermott speculatively renders species
that have been inaudible for centuries audible once more.
Artistic forms of sound research might seem uniquely suited
to stratification as we have proposed here. Indeed, all of the
propositions included here are typical features of music com-
position. However, other sound scholars attend to stratification
in their research using nonartistic methods through their
(in)tension to method: for instance, Martin’s (2019) phono-
graphic walks, which provoke the multiple sonorities of
capital-fueled displacement, aural racism, and anti-Black and
misogynist violence as directed toward her (and which might
be missed in an uptake of sonic method that aimed for
Theorizing this process of stratification, we found ourselves
researching research-creation. Specifically, the practice of
method researches that method: In this case, songwriting
researches songwriting but equally the practice of conducting,
for instance, field recordings can also be research into that
method. By doing this research, we found out that songwriting
draws from different strata, such as those suggested above.
Strata also include skills, into which other strata are slotted:
Which harmonic sequence does this affective intensity imply?
Which instruments? Which effects plug-ins?
(Don’t Decontextualize): Contextualize!
Stratification opens up sonic experience as the ‘thick event.’
Incorporating multiple strata into an audio recording contex-
tualizes the sound through making audible more of the more-
than-sonic features of sonic experience. Our song Wouldn’t
That Be Sexy incorporates repetition, screams, and a Theremin
to contextualize our walk across the north of England.
Our practice is an extreme explication, in which context
‘takes over’; the affective and inaudible dominate the record-
ing, at the expense of the audible. However, other scholars have
combined sound-based methods that accentuate context with
traditional phonographic practices. For instance, Brett D.
Lashua (2006) conducted phonographic walks with Indigenous
Canadian teenagers: Their audio recordings of space are con-
textualized by including rapped lyrics, which recount each
participant’s experiences of racism and homelessness. Like
Messina’s (2019) injections of sonic citizenships, these con-
textualizations undo elisions on the audio recordings by mak-
ing audible what otherwise could not have been conveyed.
(Don’t Represent): More-Than-Represent!
Intending to represent the sounds of space can neglect the
nonrepresentational properties of sound recording (Gallagher
& Prior, 2014). For Phillip Vannini (2015), the “non-
representational answer to the crisis of representation lies in
a variety of research styles and techniques that do not concern
themselves so much with representing life-worlds as with issu-
ing forth novel reverberations” (p. 12). In other words, nonre-
presentational properties might initiate an affective response in
the listener (McCormack, 2008). In this way, the output of our
music research-creation project is more-than-representational:
Each song is a representation of something but also attends to
how it recirculates—“issues forth”—the affective intensities
registered at the time of its composition. More-than-
representation unfolds along a queer temporal contour: Each
more-than-representational artifact is a “pressing together of
ever-multiplying spatial, temporal, and affective emplacements
that could never have touched, but are here relived and re-
represented in a queering of chronological time” (Truman &
Shannon, 2018, p. 64). It is “No deliverable. All process” (Mas-
sumi, 2015, p. 73). As more-than-representational artifacts, the
songs that make up our project Queer the Landscape not only
demonstrate the dark, creepy, oozy, piercing, bizarre-ity of
Shannon and Truman 7
walking a great distance but also (re)circulate that bizarre-ity to
be (re)experienced by the audience, as well as feeding further
thought. Similarly, our continued practice as Oblique Curios-
ities, such as the song Propel, is a continued more-than-
representational thinking with the (not)product from Queer the
In The Space Project, Dr. View (DJ View, 2018; Johnson,
2019) composes Hip Hop with African American male students
in historically white universities. Dr. View cocreates what
might be thought of as more-than representational artifacts as
a mode of resistance to anti-Blackness. While the lyrics in the
music are “about” this, and the artistic intent in producing the
music is to represent this, each track also more-than-represents
in that it provokes an embodied response in the listener: for
instance, the repetition of “I said I can do it myself, I don’t need
your help” on I Can Do it Myself, or the gnarly exuberance of
the lead on Headphones & Hoodies.
(Don’t Separate): Imbricate!
Rather than conspicuously inaudible, we are flamboyantly
audible in each of our songs: We are part of the soundscape.
This proposition illustrates (music) research-creation’s
researching of (sound) method: In this case: “How do you make
the researcher audible without doing ‘sonic selfies’?”
Singing songs is (almost) a comical sidestep of this inheri-
tance, given that it renders the researcher hyper-audible in the
audio recordings. Our affective imbrication in our recordings is
also demonstrated through our privilege: first as white, cis-
gendered, en/abled wealthy Europeans but secondly in drawing
from our relevant training and experience in arts practice.
Yet other sound scholars have theorized how they are imbri-
cated in their own phonographic practices. Chapman (2015)
suggests that the auditory presence of the recordist-researcher
is apparent in their choices, such as where to walk. Similarly,
Chapman describes the choices made in producing a final audio
mix (which reduces however many hours of recording into a
manageable piece of listening), as well as what gets centered in
this. Even more transparently, Hildegard Westerkamp narrates
the details of the effects units she applies to beach sounds in her
audio composition, Kits Beach Soundwalk (1989), accentuating
the editorial process. Again, Martin (2019) notes that even her
“neutral” situation of a fixed-position “boom” microphone is
still non-neutral, in that she decided where to situate it, and
even that she should situate it.
Coda-Conclusion: The Anti-Inheritance Filter
Our music research-creation is by no means unproblematic or
unproblematizable. We hope our work has served as an
extreme explication of one way of troubling sound studies’
inheritances. We are not suggesting that all sound studies’
projects should become music research-creation projects. Nor
are we breaking-up with other types of sound-based research.
Rather, our work is one example of how sound studies might
unsettle the white masculinist epistemological emphasis that is
often assumed of sonic method, albeit an example that takes
these concepts to an extreme formation.
We also consider the importance of citational practices in
attending to the “how” of listening to marginalized voices: That
is, we cite them. In order to cite them, scholars must also ensure
to read them. In other words, the “how” of listening has always
been neglected (and not just within sound studies) because
white masculinist scholarship often fails to listen/read outside
At the start, we positioned this article as carrying implica-
tions for critical sound studies, qualitative and post qualitative
research, and research more broadly. Additionally, we have
suggested that a politics of approach predisposes scholarship
that draws from feminist new materialisms to particular unset-
tlings of method. The following anti-inheritance filter might
help you to check if your own scholarship is troubling metho-
1. Do you IMBRICATE rather than separate? Are you
‘audible’ in your field recordings? Do they sound kind
of like you? Is your sound recording very much only
possible because you (and not us) went to that space?
If yes, go to 2! If no, go to 7.
2. Do you PROVOKE rather than naturalize/neutralize?
Are you complicating (rather than flattening) identity?
Do you center music and ‘voice’ (in its widest possible
If yes, go to 3! If no, go to 7.
3. Do you INJECT rather than capture? Are you attending
to more than what the microphone can trace?
If yes, go to 4! If no, go to 7.
4. Do you STRATIFY rather than essentialize? Does your
recording think-with the ‘thick event’ of sound? Do
you sonify the sonic and more-than-sonic layers of
If yes, go to 5! If no, go to 7.
5. Do you CONTEXTUALIZE rather than decontextua-
lize? Do the oozing creepinesses and lingering dog shit
smells you may have encountered ring through your
If yes, go to 6! If no, go to 7.
6. Do you MORE-THAN-REPRESENT rather than re-
present? Trick question (kind of)! You are definitely
circulating something. Are your recordings as-good-a
representation as they are a more-than-representation?
If yes, go to 8! If no, go to 7.
7. Your project is probably re-inscribing the inheritances
of sound studies. Try again! Don’t give up!
8. Your project is still probably reinscribing the inheritances
of sound studies (as we are), but it might also be produc-
tively problematizing them (as we hope we are).
The authors would like to thank Dr. Stephanie Springgay for her
comments on an earlier version of this article.
8International Journal of Qualitative Methods
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
David Ben Shannon https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7642-0667
Sarah E. Truman https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1466-8859
1. Clearly, we don’t know anything about parameciums, centrifuges,
or biology: Good thing we’re sticking to songs!
2. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color: See Shannon’s (2019)
“What could be feminist about sound studies?” for an overview
of some of this literature.
3. See Gershon’s (in press) “Hear Me Roar” for a detailed overview.
4. Digital Performer is a digital audio workstation and MIDI
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12 International Journal of Qualitative Methods
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