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"Possibility of Sound" by Mel Day, 2011, archival digital pigment print; photo credit: Jeffery Cross


From the ancient to the contemporary, the Material Imagination workshop explores sound as a complex, multifaceted experience. Invited speakers from across the nation and world, as well as Stanford faculty and graduate students, present their current research and lead discussions centered on pre-circulated material and their presentations. 

Sound assumes an immaterial quality that allows it to permeate space and occupy time. It appears just as soon as it disappears, weaving through barriers in both unpredictable and controllable ways. What does sound signify in disparate times and places? In what ways do the world's cultures imagine, interpret, and use sound? How do the humanities and the sciences connect to produce new technologies and understandings of sound? How do the meanings of orality, aurality, vocality, music, noise, and ambient sound shift and intersect?


Speakers present for the first half of the workshop and then open the floor for discussion. Our discussions center on short pre-circulated material posted to this website before each session. This material will explore the connection between sound and the people and circumstances that modify it and inflect it with culturally specific meaning and experience. Last year's topics included Ottoman Qur'anic recitation; the acoustics of Hagia Sophia; sound procession and traveling in cinema; medieval depictions of silence; vocal imitation in nineteenth-century Russian theater; rhythm as form; resonant subjectivity in radio spaces; player pianos and rolls; and gestural invention and digital music.

Meetings are scheduled on select Fridays in the Humanities Center Board Room. Light fare will be served. All workshops are open to the public.



Bissera V. Pentcheva

Department of Art & Art History

Faculty Coordinator


Justin Tackett

Department of English

Graduate Coordinator


Stanford Humanities Center

Art and Art History Department

English Department

Film and Media Studies

Iberian and Latin American Cultures

Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics

Icons of Sound

Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Text Technologies


Justin Tackett
Graduate Coordinator
tackett (at) stanford (dot) edu