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Interspecies Communication: Sound and Music beyond Humanity

Gavin Steingo, Music; Gary Tomlinson, Yale University

Fri, 3/29 · 6:00 pm7:30 pm · Labyrinth Books

Labyrinth Books; Humanities Council; Department of Music

Steingo’s surprising study reveals a plethora of attempts to communicate with non-humans in the modern era.

In Interspecies Communication, music scholar Gavin Steingo examines significant cases of attempted communication beyond the human—cases in which the dualistic relationship of human to non-human is dramatically challenged. From singing whales to Sun Ra to searching for alien life, Steingo charts the many ways we have attempted to think about, and indeed to reach, beings that are very unlike ourselves.

Steingo focuses on the second half of the twentieth century, when scientists developed new ways of listening to oceans and cosmic space—two realms previously inaccessible to the senses and to empirical investigation. As quintessential frontiers of the postwar period, the outer space of the cosmos and the inner space of oceans were conceptualized as parallel realities, laid bare by newly technologized “ears.” Deeply engaging, Interspecies Communication explores our attempts to cross the border between the human and non-human, to connect with non-humans in the depths of the oceans, the far reaches of the universe, or right under our own noses.

Gavin Steingo is professor of music at Princeton University and the author, previously, of Kwaito’s Promise: Music and the Aesthetic of Freedom in South Africa. Gary Tomlinson is Professor of Music and Humanities at Yale. His latest research, joining humanistic theory, archaeology, and evolutionary science, investigates the role of cultural forces in the formation of modern humanity. It has led to two books: A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity and Culture and the Course of Human Evolution. His earlier books include Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance; Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others; Metaphysical Song: An Essay on Opera; The Singing of the New World: Indigenous Voice in the Era of European Contact; and Music and Historical Critique.

This event is co-sponsored by Princeton University’s Humanities Council and Music Department.

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