Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Musikwissenschaft

Sound System Epistemologies (DFG)

Stefanie Alisch leads the inter-disciplinary research group "Sound System Epistemologies: Knowledge engendered through Practice" (SSE). SSE theorises, for the first time, the sound system as an international performance configuration, thus construeing a new model of musicological investigation. SSE aims to transcend the false dichotomy of live music vs. recorded music that still ranks musical forms in an epistomological hierarchy. The projects thus strives to enhance music studies with a new theoretical understanding of musical performance. SSE investigates how masculinity and knowledge production are dynamically intertwined in sound system practice. SSE works to illuminate how, as a result of these processes, gender diversity is diminished in the growing field of sound system cultures, and consequently in other musical practices.



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Special Vybz International Sound System Hellshire Beach Jamaica 2019
Sound Systems boom and shake, sound systems produce noise and silence, echo and bass. They can make people sway and stand still, focus and zone out, they can lead to mayhem or harmony, to sweet joy and paranoid dread. They bring amplification, hype and dance. The sound system is an international music performance configuration, much like the concert, the dance circle or the procession. Highly pronounced and developed forms of this configuration are Jamaican sound systems. “Sound systems are one of the black diaspora’s most enduring and frequently unacknowledged cultural institutions” asserts Louis Chude-Sokei.

Leading dancehall scholar Sonjah Stanley Niaah even regards the sound system as the Jamaican national instrument and has called for it to be protected by copyright  What distinguishes a sound system from other music performance configurations?
While sound systems share individual features with concert, dance circle or procession and hybrid forms are possible, it is the playback and amplification of pre-recorded sonic media which makes sound systems unique. Unlike non-standard multi-loudspeaker diffusion systems (e.g. at IRCAM or ZKM), sound systems play popular music for a dancing audience. The sound system affords highly interactive performances which often entail aesthetic duelling. The visual foregrounding of the speaker boxes further enhances the agency of the technical apparatus along with human performers. Sound aesthetics sometimes trump musical composition and versioning on previous instrumentals (“riddims”) is customary.
What unites sound systems, broadly speaking, is the playback apparatus for amplified pre-recorded popular music combined with hype strategies to make people dance.