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Sound Art and the Sonic Unconscious

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 March 2009

Christoph Cox
School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA 01002, USA E-mail:


This essay develops an ontology of sound and argues that sound art plays a crucial role in revealing this ontology. I argue for a conception of sound as a continuous, anonymous flux to which human expressions contribute but which precedes and exceeds these expressions. Developing Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s conception of the perceptual unconscious, I propose that this sonic flux is composed of two dimensions: a virtual dimension that I term ‘noise’ and an actual dimension that consists of contractions of this virtual continuum: for example, music and speech. Examining work by Max Neuhaus, Chris Kubick, Francisco Lopez and others, I suggest that the richest works of sound art help to disclose the virtual dimension of sound and its process of actualisation.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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