Ailsa Lipscombe, PhD student in Music History and Theory, was recently awarded the Charles Seeger Prize at the 2021 Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Meeting for her paper titled "When Silence is Heard: Embodied Listening in Medical Facilities’ Competing Sonic Epistemes." The Charles Seeger Prize recognizes the most distinguished student paper presented at the SEM Annual Meeting in the prior year. Any student who presents a formal paper at the Annual Meeting shall be eligible for the prize.
Read the abstract of the award-winning paper below. Congratulations, Ailsa!
When Silence is Heard: Embodied Listening in Medical Facilities’ Competing Sonic Epistemes
The sonic ecologies of medical facilities are marked by contradictory frames of interpretation and knowledge. For some, the symphony of mechanical alarms inspires a familiar choreography of responses and affects. For others, its aural profile is nothing but “sonic trash” (Beckerman 2014; 2019). Running in parallel to these contending definitions of sound are considerations of silence: as something to be sought out, desired, or even resisted. Indeed, hospital discourses frequently juxtapose the “bad” noises of medical environments with “good” silence (Lischer 2013; Rice 2013). Silence becomes valorized as the ideal sonic experience for all, inspiring protocols that seek to minimize and eliminate harmful sounds (WHO 2015). And yet, this pursuit of silence fails to account for the varying sonic epistemes that resound within medical facilities.
In this paper, I draw on ethnographic work conducted in Chicagoland hospitals to consider the dynamic ways sound and silence are heard by patients, practitioners, and visitors. To do so, I bring together Sound Studies’ interest in acoustemological resonances of and in time and space (Cusick 2017; Feld 1996) with Disability Studies’ careful attending to embodiment that resists universalizing narratives of ideal or normate experiences (Davis 2017; Hamraie 2017). I argue that designating sounds as “bad” falsely presumes a universal way of hearing that ignores bodily difference and unique histories of listening. Turning to (and tuning into) multiple sonic frames of reference, I respond by offering a model of hospital-based listening that acknowledges the potentials of sound and silence to both harm and heal.