A full Master's course level Sound Studies paper on the societal effects of a solitary word.

9 min read



Crazy what you can find during a move. My ever elusive and way more awesome publication is still at large, but I'll get the sucker. For now, I have unearthed this paper. This paper's premise was to write a hyper-specific research piece on a lone word related to music and sound studies (It was for a Master's level Sound Studies class with one of the coolest and most difficult professor's I ever had). Some is a little convoluted, since it's about a decade old now. Other bits show the intensity of the class and how much work was required to get my point across. Either way - NERD ALERT - Run away now, unless you want to read a piece on audio's impact on society, culture and even architecture - Please enjoy! 

Gear Pic

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word resonance as, “The reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection, or specifically by synchronous vibration.” In other words, resonance is responsible for the richness and color of the tone which you are hearing. Without the attitude and condition of resonance what we hear would be flat and sterile.  

Resonance is thus the presence and strength of audible frequency. It is one of the most difficult sonic qualities to place into words, but at the same time is one of the most heavenly and mysterious concepts tied to the study of sound. The word resonance is an important one within the field of sound studies because it is important to understand how this aural reflection of your surroundings plays just as significant a role as the source of the sounds. The way that sound waves fold and bounce back, resonating into our ears is the sole ingredient for what creates emotion that certain sounds illicit. This means that when discussing resonance in terms of sound studies we must take into account the enclosures where such resounding occurs. 

The etymology of resonance lies in the Latin word resonare, meaning to resound. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the earliest occurrence of resonance in print was written by William Caxton in 1491. In a close definition to its modern incarnation, resonance is explained in A General History of Music by Charles Burney as, "An aggregate of echoes or of quick repetitions and returns of the same sound." Here, it is vital to understand the difference between these two words echo and resonance. Both resonance and the presence of an echo are naturally occurring. Resonance strikes at a much deeper emotional chord. This is because an echo is perceived on a much more visceral level. Echo is taken in at face value. Resonance, however, stays The Listener iliciting a more significant emotional response. Adam Evens embodies this argument in his chapter Sound And Noise. Here, he states that, "What physics represents as the sum of sine waves is heard as the character of a sound in all of its specificity, the model C on a Steinway and not a Bosendorfer, the Boeing technique of Yo-Yo ma and no other." (Evens, Pg. 4.5). What Evens is explaining is that, although science plays a large part in the lasting effects of resonance. It is the character of what is being sounded that is equally, if not more significant. Resonance provides a richness and personality to the sound that an echo simply attempts to mimic. This is not to say that resonance and echo cannot work in conjunction with one another. As Emily Thompson explains in her book The Soundscape of Modernity the principle of "assisted resonance" 23 first applied during the 1960s (Thompson-Pe-322). Assisted resonance was an attempt to electronically implant resonance into venues that otherwise gave off a stale auditory experience. She states that this technological experiment was a descendant of the echo chambers and miking techniques that sound engineers had innovated in the 1920s to add spatial effects to otherwise non reverberant radio broadcasts and motion picture sound tracks." This displays the close relation, yet subtle and crucial differences between the concepts of resonant and echoing tones. The desire to elicit a reaction that would resonate Watch how you dve uSwg thought uniquely with both audience and performer led technicians on a quest to do away with a dry, non-resonant aural atmosphere. Assisted resonance is a technicians way of fabricating the existence of a resounding quality. Echo is merely an effect added to the mix in the hopes of creating resonance. Resonance is thus something with much more depth than echo; it is rooted within the core and structural integrity of the building where sound originates. Echo stapled on to create an aural illusion of depth that does not truly exist. 

The strength of resonance is not always a welcome guest, though. Within the recording studio resonance is not necessarily the sum of all evils but due to its ability to "color' the sound it is something that producers tend to wish to avoid. Stanley R. Alten informs in his book Audio in Media that coloration "affects perception of tonal balance, clarity and imaging as well" (Alten, Pg. 33). Needless to say,coloration is an effect that needs to be wired as much as possible at a recording studio where having control over the perception of sound is the most important goal. Within an extremely enclosed pc, ch as a recording studio, resonance is simply too powerful and charismatic. Alten goes on the same that Resonance results when a vibrating body with the same natural frequencies as another body cues vibrate sympathetically and increases the amplitude of both of them at those frequencies if the vibrations page are in acoustical phase In other words resonance, when encapsulated, will increase the force of a note beyond its desired intensity and execution. As Alten also states. "This creates unequal representation of the frequencies generated by a sound source. On the contrary, when this theory is placed in a larger soundscape this unequal representation of frequencies creates a unique listening experience. The uneven distribution of air pressure that comes with resonance is what gives any locale its aural presence and personal aura; since there are too many variables in the outside world for two places to resonate exactly the same. One must realize that the factors controlling a recording studios reflectivity also applies within the world at large, just to a different, more free-wheeling extent. The difference here being that Earth is the chamber for a sound studies project, as opposed to the vocal booth or drum room of a recording studio endeavor.  

Philosopher Jean Juc-Nancy presents an interesting view on the origins of resonance that combines notions of various resonant chambers. Resonance is not specifically tied to the sounding of the tone but the chamber in which it is sounded and subsequently perceived. In Listening, Nancy claims that the importance of term resonance first displays itself before birth. He states, "The womb [matrice]-like constitution of resonance, and the resonant constitution of the womb: What is the belly of a pregnant woman, if not the space or the antrum where a new instrument comes to resound, a new organon, which comes to fold in on itself, then to move, receiving from outside only sounds, which, when the day comes, it will begin to echo through its cry? But, more generally, more womb like, it is always in the belly that we - man or woman - end up listening or start listening. The ear opens onto the sonorous cave that we then become” (Nancy, pg., 37). Nancy's deduction fits with my own theory that the body is possibly the most important location where resonance is identified but where one places their body is also a large, if not equally as important of a factor. At minimum, TWO chambers are necessary for resonance to exist. The one housing your ears and the one that houses your body (don’t even get me started on the body cavity itself).  

For myself resonance portrays an audio-vision of warmth. It is the reason to buy a tube amp. It is that fuzzy and irreplaceable presence which ties sound to memory. With the flatness and sterility that comes with an absence of resonance comes an easily forgettable tone. Undoubtedly, the personality resonance brings is its single strongest advocate. This ‘personality’ of resonance lends itself to the character of any broader aural space, such as a city or rural landscape. If resonance represents the character of any said space, then the age and materials used in construction of the items sounding, or where a sound is deflected off of (buildings, a windmill), surely plays an important role in our perception of the landscape. From here the study of Archaeoacoustics is bom. Archaeoacoustics is a field dedicated to the memory, context and shape of sounds. Without the resonating nature of any given sound, not rich and resonant enough to warrant remembering them in the first place.  

Resonance is often tied to the tonality of music, however, it is an equally important term to the field of Acoustic Ecology. R. Murray Schaefer defines Acoustic Ecology as, “The study of the effects of acoustical environment or soundscape on the physical responses or behavioral characteristics of creatures living within it" (Schafer, Pg., 271). Resonance helps to further this field of Acoustic Ecology by helping to unearth the antiquity behind the obvious that shapes cach aural space dissimilarly from others. As Jean-Luc Nancy explains, "Music is the art of the hope for resonance: a sense that does not make sense except because of its resounding in itself. Nancy is trying to say that music is not inherently resonant. Music must first obtain the status of being resonant. In terms of ecology, resonance is naturally occurring. One does not need to wait for it. Still there is a need to tune in to the atmosphere around them to make sense of harmonic overtones which perpetually bounce Around. It requires an ear train comparably, if not equally, to that of a musician to absorb these characteristics. Acoustic Ecologists seek to have everyone open their ears to the world around them in the hopes that others can appreciate what they probably miss in their day-to-day. 

Additionally, as the prevalence of technology increases, so too does the attempt to silence it. resonance has an important task in maintaining the history of agent every vicinity in our throwaway culture. The future of sound studies is really dependent upon its approach to the past, since what we hear is shaped from the atmosphere of these gone by. Resonance will continue to be a valid term for discussion within sound studies circles due to the context it places sound in and the overall tonal presence it will continue to Foster. 

Resonance can also be applied more obviously to a soundscape, creative, film sound, music, etc. If done properly it's addition can serve to simulate the 'reality' of a space. The best example of this is within the aural description or mise en scene, if you will, for the aforementioned film sound. A resonant tone is not limited to only the reflective properties it wears on its nose. Resonance is this deeper emotional experience, important for the strengthening of a bond between frame and sound. When that emotion is absent in a motion picture source audio it must be simulated to give the film itself any sort of these resonant properties or memorable and lasting effect. Famous sound designer Walter Murch faced this exact problem when arranging the sound for the film The English Patient. He explains, "The problem is that if you record the actual sound that goes parallel with that space, it has nothing to do with the emotion of being there (Ondaatje, 118). Just because you record within a space does not mean you have captured its resonance or personality. For the desert scenarios in The English Patient Murch was forced to, "Add insect-like sounds that, realistically, would probably not be there." Cinema is a field of constant manipulation. It is illusory in the way it simulates movement at 24 frames every second. Why then should the presentation of the soundtrack be any less illusory? Murch utilized, "A whole pallet of little clicks and presences that came from the insects [to give The English Patient resonance]." His approach succeeded in providing The English Patient  with a lasting quality that landed him Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound (among many others. Source, 

The ability of sound to resonate with mankind is a demarcation line separating its attributes from the countless other adjectives adhering themselves to the auditory field. Sound studies owes a great deal to the presence and recognition of depth and emotional response which resonance draws. Without the ability of tones to leave their mark via resonance, they would simply be forgotten; they would possess no power nor personality. Only with re-sounding does a tone have enough character to lend itself to memory and eternity. Sound resonates within each person differently but with its absence comes a complete lack of sonic individuality. When applying this to a specific geographical area resonance is a defining characteristic of its overall ‘shape’. First, image and tone are recognized (when entering a new soundscape), but the personality of a region that resonance provides is what assimilates this tone to recollection and reflection. Mental images fade as time goes on but as we grow older a town rich enough in resonance will forever portray a certain flavor to us. The fusion of sound, sight and memory would not adhere to consciousness if it fell short of providing citizens with a unique enough auditory charisma. 

Keep on rockin' and rollin' - Leave me comments if there's errors - I only spot checked this and tossed it up :)

mail list
Chuck W.


Thanks so much for visiting! Please don't ever be a stranger!!

Please consider visiting our sister site -


In Need Of An Interview For A New Release, Looking For Some Advice, Or Want To Perform A Set With Me On My Daily Live Stream?  Welp. Email's your best bet!