Veit Erlmann, 22 May 2014

Title of the Talk: The Acoustic-Unconscious: Recovering Marshall McLuhan

When? Thursday 22nd May 2014 (TT Week4) (17:00-18:30)

Where? Ertegun House, St Giles, University of Oxford

Speaker: Professor Veit Erlmann (Endowed Chair of Music History, Professor of Ethnomusicology and Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin)

Abstract: Marshall McLuhan is considered to be a founding figure of sound studies, but he is also (in)famous for his techno-determinism, Orientalism and, most importantly, oral/literate dichotomy. By contrast, his concept of “acoustic space” is often overlooked. Erlmann argues that it is time to revisit McLuhan’s contribution to early sound studies and to examine the place of “acoustic space” in his theory of media. In so doing he hopes to broaden the current debate about sound on the edge or the “unsound” to what Erlmann calls the “acoustic-unconscious.”

An short excerpt of McLuhan being interviewed in 1967 can be watched below.


Speaker Biography: Veit Erlmann holds the Endowed Chair of Music History at the University of Texas. He studied musicology, sociology, anthropology and philosophy in Berlin and Cologne, where he obtained a Dr.phil. in 1978 and did a Habilitation in musicology in 1989 and in anthropology in 1994. As an ethnographer he has done fieldwork in Morocco (1972), Cameroon (1975-1976), Niger (1979), South Africa (1982-1987), Lesotho (1982), Ecuador (1987), and Ghana (1989).  Currently he is working on a book on intellectual property in the South African music industry that will be published by Duke University Press. In addition to his ethnographic work he also retains a strong interest in musicology, cultural studies and cultural history, primarily in relation to Europe.

Dr. Erlmann has been on the faculties of the University of Natal, the University of Chicago, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and the Free University of Berlin. Among his publications are African Stars, Studies in Black South African Performance and Nightsong: Performance, Power and Practice in South Africa, both published by the University of Chicago Press. His recent book, Music, Modernity and the Global Imagination, published by Oxford University Press, won the Alan P. Merriam Prize for the best English-language monograph in ethnomusicology. His most recent book is Reason and Resonance: a History of Modern Aurality (Zone Books, 2010).


Event hosted as part of the Seminar in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies Series, based at St John’s College, University of Oxford.

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