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Theatre & Performance Design


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Sounding out ‘the scenographic turn’:


eight position statements
a b
Adrian Curtin & David Roesner
a
Drama Department, University of Exeter, UK
b
Theaterwissenschaft, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich,
Germany
Published online: 04 Jun 2015.

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To cite this article: Adrian Curtin & David Roesner (2015) Sounding out ‘the scenographic turn’:
eight position statements, Theatre & Performance Design, 1:1-2, 107-125

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23322551.2015.1027523

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Theatre and Performance Design, 2015
Vol. 1, Nos. 1–2, 107–125, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23322551.2015.1027523

Sounding out ‘the scenographic turn’: eight position statements


Edited by Adrian Curtina* and David Roesnerb*
With statements from Ross Brown, Adrian Curtin, George Home-Cook, Lynne
Kendrick, David Roesner, Katharina Rost, Nicholas Till and Pieter Verstraete
a
Drama Department, University of Exeter, UK; bTheaterwissenschaft, Ludwig-Maximilians-
Universität, Munich, Germany

This multi-authored article collects a range of position statements made by


leading scholars/practitioners in the fields of theatre aurality, music theatre/opera
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and sound design. Contributors independently prepared short statements in


response to a central provocation – namely, the mooted ‘scenographic turn’ and
its implication for theatre sound studies. The article provides snapshots of current
opinions about theatre sound design and scenography. It does not advance a
single, unified argument but rather outlines some key ways in which sound/music
and scenography are operating, and have operated, in theatre, and have been
discussed in aesthetic theory. The article ultimately reinforces the importance of
attending to sound and scenography as co-constitutive elements, and suggests
there is no single or best way of doing this.

At the launch of this new journal on theatre and performance design, we, the editors
of this multi-authored article, wish to draw attention to an area of design
traditionally neglected in academic discourses and the rituals of validation in the
creative industries: sonic design. Two examples of this neglect may indicate that
there is still a need to trumpet all things sonic in theatre: in June 2014 the US-based
Tony Award for best sound design was scrapped, and in Germany the largest annual
survey of 44 theatre critics singling out best actor, set designer, director, theatre etc.
still has no category for ‘best sound design’ and/or ‘best incidental music’.
There has, however, been a sonic/acoustic ‘turn’ in recent decades, which has
informed scholarship in the humanities and social sciences (see Meyer 2008). Theatre
and performance studies have begun to attend to acoustic phenomena with greater
frequency and depth. There is a growing body of scholarly work that analyses a
continuum of theatre sound, noise and music, both contemporary and historical.1
Moreover, there is a proliferation of theatre artists in Europe and elsewhere who are
creating sound designs and musical compositions for productions that encourage
audiences to attend to what they hear – and, more broadly, what they perceive – in
new ways. Now, another ‘turn’ has been mooted: the ‘scenographic turn’. Does this
mean the sonic/acoustic ‘turn’ is at an end? Are we turning from ‘the sonic’ to ‘the
scenographic’? What is the significance of enfolding the former in the latter? Or is
this a false problematic?

*Corresponding authors. Email: a.curtin@exeter.ac.uk; d.roesner@lrz.uni-muenchen.de


© 2015 Taylor & Francis
108 Adrian Curtin and David Roesner

Assuming the ‘scenographic turn’ is not just a rhetorical contrivance, but


identifies something about the state of current scholarship and artistic practice,
what is the role of sound in this? Put differently, are sound and scenography
interacting, or being theorized, in new ways? Does the ‘scenographic turn’ have an
identifiably sonic component? If so, what is it? Branching out, what positions are
scholars and artists taking with respect to the current status and future development
of theatre sound design and theatre sound studies? (How) does scenography figure
into this?
We put these questions to a group of scholars/practitioners who work in the field
of sound design/theatre music and who variously examine the sonic and acoustic
aspects of theatre in relation to meaning making, performativity, architecture and
space, and the politics of perception. We asked each contributor to provide a
position statement that responds to the above questions, and we have collated their
texts here. They are, as we hoped, quite diverse and touch on different aspects of the
interplay(s) between the sonic and the scenographic. We have deliberately not sought
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to harmonize the statements or create smooth transitions between them, but rather
have left each in its unique tone – hard cuts rather than fade ins/fade outs.
One of the features of scholarship on sound in the humanities is its general lack
of unity as a field. Diversity of opinion, focus and approach need not, however, be
taken as signs of intellectual incoherence or divisiveness, but rather as indications of
vital, vibrant discourse that is progressing in multiple directions simultaneously.
There are indications of this here, as well as evidence of shared positionality and
thematic consonance. Sound often works to position us as listening subjects in a
particular place, and may be used in performance design to help create imagined or
imaginary space. Conversely, sound (as noise) can be an imposition; it can intrude
upon consciousness and displace our attention. Taking a position with respect to
sound means situating oneself somewhere – taking a stand, as it were – even if this
means only being able to attend to what is within local earshot. Multiple position
statements may therefore call to mind a greater range of ideas and relevant
phenomena, and capture a range of current opinions about the relationships between
sound and scenography, both in theory and in practice. This article presents
snaphsots, provocations, lines of thought, musings, theses, possibilities – not a
traditional scholarly argument. It is a deliberately ‘heteroglossic’ (Bakhtin) attempt
to emphasize and remind us of how intricately the mise-en-scène of performance –
both historical and contemporary – is intertwined with modes of sounding,
musicking, echoing and listening. Each position statement has been prepared
independently.
Between us, we cover a range of aspects that engage the provocation of a
potential ‘scenographic turn’. We point to the philosophical, phenomenological and
cognitive links between space and sound, the visual and the aural. We emphasize
that sound and vision are inextricably linked and co-constitutive, and that
collaboration and innovation in the interplay of sound design and stage design
have great productive potential, as evidenced by a number of theatrical examples
(Roesner). We indicate little-known historical connections between sound, aesthetics
and scenography in theatre (Till, Brown). We highlight the socio-political con-
sequences of the post-dramatic ‘musicalization’ of theatre (Verstraete) and query the
perceptual challenges offered by ‘theatre in the dark’, where visuality falls short
(Kendrick). We affirm the importance of thinking about sound in relation to the
Theatre and Performance Design 109

other senses (Home-Cook, Curtin), hypothesize new, geological ways of conceptu-


alizing sound design (Rost) and posit ‘atmosphere’ as a paradigm for thinking about
theatrical design (Home-Cook). Finally, we acknowledge the contrariety and
multiplicity of audience reception, and the convolutions of academic ‘turns’ (Curtin).
Ultimately, it is our hope that this article will help advance the ongoing scholarly
conversation about sound, scenography and theatre, and will stimulate future
debate.

1. Sonic scenography (David Roesner)


I will start with an anecdote. A friend of mine who is a theatre musician and works
very successfully in the German theatre circuit told me once that almost invariably
when he’d turn up to the so-called ‘Bauprobe’ for a new production – a first try-out
and mock-up of the model stage design for a new production on the actual stage,
which usually happens weeks if not months before the actual rehearsals begin – he’d
ask the stage designer: ‘… and where do the speakers go?’ These had usually been
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forgotten and had to be accommodated retrospectively into the design.


There is then, on the one hand, an old rivalry between the sonic and the visual in
theatre and theatre design, and on the other, mutual incomprehension and
potentially quite conflicting priorities. The fact that in most professional theatres
the artists and respective technical departments responsible for each design aspect are
strictly separated furthers the divide.
In my – perhaps optimistic – understanding of the idea of the ‘scenographic
turn’, however, there is plenty of potential (and in the current theatre aesthetic quite
some evidence) that the ‘scenographic’ and the ‘sonic’ can coexist quite happily,
actually more than that: can inspire and enhance each other.
The scenographic turn, as I understand it, is not (just) a paradigm suggesting we
should pay a bit more attention to the stage design of theatrical productions; it is a
profound re-evaluation of the aesthetics, the dramaturgical function and the visceral
experience of spaces and images for performances; an understanding of scenography
as emancipated from merely illustrating or furnishing the realization of a dramatic
text on stage.
While described and discussed as a recent phenomenon, we can trace such ideas
back historically at least to one of the pioneers of stage and lighting design, the Swiss
theatre practitioner and writer Adolphe Appia (1862–1928). Surprisingly, perhaps,
it was Appia’s passion for music and his quest to enhance the rather dusty operatic
practices of his day that led to his visionary scenographic ideas about ‘rhythmic
spaces’ and light that has ‘an almost miraculous flexibility’ and can ‘create shadows,
make them living, and spread the harmony of their vibrations in space, just as
music does’ (Appia 1993, 114). Recent and current theatre practitioners such as Pina
Bausch, Karin Beier, Filter, Heiner Goebbels, Ruedi Häusermann, Christoph
Marthaler, David Marton, Katie Mitchell, Eimuntas Nekrošius, Einar Schleef,
Sound&Fury, Michael Thalheimer and their creative collaborators integrate stage
design intimately with a keen musical and sonic sensibility (for a wider context, see
Meyer 2008). A number of terms have even been coined for this already: ‘sound
scenography’, ‘acoustic scenography’, ‘sonic scenography’ or ‘Klangszenographie’.2
This may take a number of forms. In Katie Mitchell’s ‘multimedia’ productions, for
example, the acoustic separation of the diegetic narrative world from the artificially
110 Adrian Curtin and David Roesner

live produced soundtrack we hear is not only a performative device, but also –
through the visibility of the Foley artists and their work – a main design feature of the
performance space.
Karin Beier and her team often create stages that have a mixture of conventional
elements (tables, chairs), musical instruments (both mobile and static) and elements
such as water or mud, which not only have significant impact on the visual development
and symbolism of the stage actions, but also have a sonic materiality that features
strongly and interacts with the spoken word and the – often experimental – music.
Michael Thalheimer – with scenographer Olaf Altmann’s rhythmic spaces and
Bert Wrede’s music and sound design – uses the rhythms of rapid speech, long
pauses, echoing walls, long walks on high heels, etc., to create an often highly
stylized and yet surprisingly organic theatrical style.
Filter’s performances, particularly their adaptations of Shakespeare, look and
feel like slightly messy concerts. Instruments, retro electronic sound devices, cables,
microphones, etc. litter the space but also evoke – both sonically and visually – the
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wood of Athens (in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) or Olivia’s mansion (in Twelfth
Night) (for more details and a more in-depth analysis of all three examples, see
Roesner 2014, 236–256). It has often been said that in Shakespeare’s theatre words
evoke all the scenery (‘Wortkulisse’ or ‘verbal scenography’); Filter largely passes
this task on to music, song and sound effects.
Finally, there are an increasing number of theatre productions that include live
musicians in their stage design, often creating hybrid spaces that are both fictional
and real and at once theatre stage and concert venue. Phelim McDermott and Julian
Crouch’s Shockheaded Peter (1998), for example, was based inextricably on the
music and the physical presence of the band The Tiger Lillies, whose musical style
and musical personae (see Auslander 2006) – consisting of a wild mash-up of
Victorian-Gothic-Vaudeville-Cabaret-Circus-Itinerant Balladeers – were formative
for the stage and costume design.
In all these cases, theatre makers have found ways to ensure a dialogue between
the scenic and the sonic, by changing entrenched production rhythms, faciltating
early interplay and exchange between all the creative contributors, and questioning
assumptions about established hierarchies of production and aesthetics. These
revised processes ensure that stage design, composition and sonic design are
intimately linked in artistic practice. Commonly, however, their institutional
separation in conservatoires and theatres remains, and more mutual acknowledge-
ment and reciprocal inspiration would be more than welcome.

2. Theses for a sceno-sonic turn (Nicholas Till)


Modernist taxonomies of artistic media, such as that of the neo-Kantian philosopher
Susanne Langer, invariably characterize sonic arts as being essentially temporal, and
arts such as sculpture and architecture (and perhaps scenography?) as being
essentially spatial. According to Langer (1953, 135), each artistic medium occupies
its own ‘primary illusion’, that of music being ‘time made audible’. Langer
considered the concept of space in music to be but a ‘secondary illusion’ (1953,
117). She also held that there could be no straying from the essential virtual field of
each art; that there could be no valid intermedial combinations (1957, 86). So where
did that leave theatre? We’ll come back to that.
Theatre and Performance Design 111

Space first assumed centrality in the architectural thinking of early modernists


such as Peter Behrens and Adolf Loos (Forty 2000, 256–275). At the Bauhaus,
László Moholy-Nagy (1932, 62) insisted that in architecture, ‘Building material is an
auxiliary … the principle means of creation is the space itself’. But as Henri Lefebvre
(1991, 1; 287) pointed out, the modernist architect’s concern with space is abstract: a
Euclidian space of mental ratio rather than a lived place defined by all the modalities
of embodied social experience. And a correlative of this emphasis upon abstract
space has been a reification of architecture – and perhaps space – as essentially
visual: ‘Everything is in the visual’, Le Corbusier asserted (1991, 231).
But if there is one thing that the postmodern spatial turn of the 1960s, initiated
by thinkers such as Foucault, McLuhan and Lefebvre himself, and the more recent
acoustic turn in social and aesthetic thinking have taught us, it is that sound and
space must be understood dialectically, since full awareness of space involves
awareness of the relationship of sound to space, and vice versa. Modernist assertions
of the medial exclusiveness of sonic and spatial practices assume a very restricted
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ontology for each of the practices in question. Music, for instance, is as much spatial
as temporal: it is performed in space; what is heard is shaped by the specific
disposition of the performers in that space; and its sonic qualities are determined by
the acoustic properties of the space in which it takes place. Sound art is often even
more responsive to the specifics of space. Furthermore, sound brings into being a
listening subject whose selfhood during the time of listening is spatially and
corporeally defined. As Jean-Luc Nancy (2007, 14) puts it, ‘To listen is to enter
that spatiality by which, at the same time, I am penetrated…’. Architecture, on the
other hand, is experienced not simply as a visual object in space but also through the
embodied senses of touch, sound and smell, and the modalities of time, association
and social use. We often hear in a built space what we cannot see: footsteps upstairs;
a creaking door. Both music and architecture, sound and space, are inherently multi-
modal: sonic and scenographic at once. Sceno-sonic.
Modernist theatre theorists were no less reductive in their search for the essence
of theatre, although they inevitably disagreed upon what constituted the essential
medium of theatre. For Eric Bentley it was language (‘every dramaturgic practice
that subordinates the words to any other medium has trivialized the drama without
giving full reign to the medium that has become dominant’ [Bentley 1987, 87]); for
Kantor it was space; for Grotowksi it was the human body. It was not the least of
Adolphe Appia’s insights that, although he held to the modernist attributions of
space and time to scenography and music respectively, he recognized that in opera
the human body and light served as mediating elements between the fixity of his
scenographic spaces and the temporality and fluidity of music (Appia 1962).
Theatre enacts the dialectic of showing and concealing that underpins the tension
between epistemology (that which is shown is true) and metaphysics (that which is
concealed is true). And it questions the testimony of eye and ear through deception
and illusion: theatrical narratives often turn upon whether we can trust the evidence
of our senses – what we see, what we hear, what we are told. The current practices of
site-specific theatre and theatre in the dark are perhaps the clearest evidence of a
sceno-sonic turn that plays directly upon these modalities and their perceptual
unsettling in the dissolution of the sceno-sonic boundaries between the real and the
virtual. A sceno-sonic turn that responds to, and questions, the flickering to and fro
of the real and virtual in an increasingly mediated world.
112 Adrian Curtin and David Roesner

3. On vibrate: the new scenographic picturesque (Ross Brown)


The art of practical noises-off reached its peak between the 1860s and the 1930s
(Brown 2010, 18–30; 63–73). This was not noisemaking required by classical
dramaturgy, where the action is carried forward by a continuous momentum of
consequence, which passes, transitively, through the scenic structure towards the final
resolution. Rather it was that required by a new intransitive dramaturgy of serial-
discontinuity, where each scene builds to a situation where forward motion is halted
in a moment of stasis or suspense, and from which the next scene begins afresh
(Meisel 1983, 39–42; 97). Rather than performing the disruption and resolution of
cosmic order, it enacted the atmosphere and life of the stage picture. Made backstage,
but in the same acoustic world in which the actors spoke, moved and were seen, this
noise had a materiality whose phenomenology was more than acoustic, and a scenic
integrity that proved elusive to phonographically reproduced noises or subsequent
electroacoustic technologies. Loudspeaker sound lent itself more to extra-diegetic
framing, as a mediating gauze that bled the aural focus between frontcloth
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immediacy and intra-diegetic world, usually at the beginnings and ends of scenes.
Record players and tape recorders also lacked sensitivity as instruments, playback
being less flexibly interactive than playing, and operating less expressive than
performing. Theatre, in the mid-twentieth century, lost patience with scenic noise.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, plasticity of noise and the potential for synchrony and
dynamic interaction between electroacoustic soundscape and stage performance
returned with the arrival of digital sampling and MIDI (musical instrument digital
interface), which allowed recorded sounds to be played polyphonically, with touch
sensitive expressivity. This suited the devised mise-en-scène of physical and visual or
design-led theatre, where it brought a precise organicity of sonic experimentation and
enabled a filmic, edited quality. At around the same time, cinemas acquired surround
sound and, in an immersive turn, live theatre also began to address the dialectic between
the aural space of audience and the scenic construct. Even where plays remained largely
acoustic, stage and audience were now placed within a transparent, continuous and
intermedially indexed sphere of electroacoustic potential – phenomenologically more
than a sonic turn: a multimodal auralization of scenic space.
From around 1994 I started to hear the word ‘scenography’ used to imply a more
kinetic process than ‘stage design’. It formed part of an exotic new academic
terminology in UK theatre design, which included various ‘dramaturgies’ (of light,
action, objects etc.), synergy, allusions to the neurological condition of synaesthesia
and talk of a paradigm shift from the literary to the material. Material, I then argued,
was habitually and lazily equated with visible, which perpetuated an ocularcentric bias
in post-enlightenment episteme. My argument is now differently nuanced: that in
theatre history (if not historiography), concepts of picture and spectacle have never
been visual, but always sensorily multimodal. Indeed, the theatre provides a trope of
multimodality to other disciplines. That the visual might be atmospheric, or noise
might be dramaturgically organized into what we might now call soundscape (the
pictorial connotation of the suffix –scape is often overlooked) are notions arising from
eighteenth-century scenic art.
The scenic revolution institutionalized at Drury Lane in the 1760s–1770s is a
familiar chapter in histories of visual culture. Less well known is that Garrick wanted
‘scenic virtue to form the rising age’ through ‘the charms of sound’ (as well as the
Theatre and Performance Design 113

‘pomp of show’ [Johnson 1749]), or that his scenic artist, de Loutherbourg, was
equally celebrated for his ‘Picturesque of Sound’ (Baugh 2007; Brown 2010). The
Picturesque is traditionally a footnote to Romanticism, but its discourse was
conceptually anti-Romantic, pursuing neither immanence nor the sublime, but a
synthetic aesthetic of pictorial composition and effect. It did not fetishize truth but
valorized contrivance in art, and saw a beauty in surface irregularity, roughness and
decay. Its viewpoint was touristically mobile and aural. As Dr Syntax says in
Combe’s cartoon parody of the movement, ‘… we the picturesque may find in
thunder loud, or whistling wind; and often, as I fully ween, it may be heard as well as
seen’ (Combe 1812, 111). If the scenographic turn of the 1990s aspired Romantic-
ally, like Appia, to the holistically singular (Brown 2010, 46–48; 106–112), I detect a
resonance of the Picturesque in the immersive, intermedial scenography of the
current moment. At this turn, scenography seems to delight in an atomized plurality
of scenic effect; in distractions, fragmentation, entropy; in alert and notification
rather than signal; in surface rather than deep vibration. The new picturesque of a
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new weather: of vibrating phones, not cosmic vibes?

4. Designing vibrational space: from aesthetic to socio-political enquiry (Pieter


Verstraete)
Antonin Artaud’s ‘cathartic’, vibrational theatre,3 which was to surround the
audience, ‘attack the spectator’s sensibility on all sides’ (Artaud 1958, 86) and
break with the old proscenium theatre, was perhaps the most radical attempt in
modernist theatre to which both a sonic and scenographic turn today are still
indebted in many regards. Vibrational space was a bold effort on Artaud’s part to
use the full potential of sound design, including the architectonics and acoustics of
the theatre space, to activate the individual spectator through general discomfort and
unfamiliarity with new sounds, resonating from instruments of ‘new alloys of metal’
and overly loud sounds ‘or noises that are unbearably piercing’ (Artaud 1958, 95).
In spirit, Artaud’s scenographic ideas may be understood to respond to the ideas of
‘total theatre’ in ways that are much indebted to, but also diverge strongly from, the
Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk. His ideas about the spatial reverberation of voice may
recall Wagner’s experiments with a soundboard and pillars in his Festspielhaus that
projected the sound of the orchestra from under the stage into the auditorium, or as
Artaud formulated it, ‘A cry uttered at one end of the room can be transmitted from
mouth to mouth with amplifications and successive modulations all the way to the
other’ (1958, 97). Yet Artaud’s revolutionary vision about the purpose of sound as
bodily titillating wavelengths resonates more with post-Marxist notions of collective
experience, ‘mass spectacle’ and social change than with Wagner’s democratic
principles of ideal listening, formulated as an imperative: ‘abandon individual
psychology, enter into mass passions, into the conditions of the collective spirit, grasp
the collective wavelengths, in short, change the subject’ (Cahiers de Rodez V: 153,
quoted in Weiss 1992, 279). It is in this political spirit that Artaud’s ‘cruel’ sound
system proposed ‘to seek in the agitation of tremendous masses, convulsed and hurled
against each other, a little of that poetry of festivals and crowds when, all too rarely
nowadays, the people pour out into the streets’ (Artaud 1958, 85).
Artaud’s desire to channel passions and energies against distraction is not of an
equal order to Wagner’s aspiration to channel the spectator through synthesis and
114 Adrian Curtin and David Roesner

integration of all the senses. Susan Buck-Morrs (1992, 26) has criticized the
superimposed, all-encompassing, comforting unity of the senses that is based on the
concealment of alienation, the sensual impoverishment and fragmentation in the
individual’s experience of modern existence. Artaud, on the contrary, aims at an
implicit awareness of the individual entering into mass passions through an
immersion that causes dread and discomfort. In this way, Artaud’s vibrational
theatre is rather a contrivance that calls for a critical understanding of the power that
sound and audio scenography can convey, ‘especially in a domain where the endlessly
renewed fatigue of the organs requires intense and sudden shocks to revive our
understanding’ (Artaud 1958, 86). This exemplifies a rupture with the tradition of the
Gesamtkunstwerk, and instates a new ‘total’ theatre that serves to shake the
individual by ‘sudden and unforeseen electricity’ (Cahiers de Rodez IX: 43, quoted
in Weiss 1994, 51).
Artaud’s theatre gave us a glimpse of what the scenographic turn in sound design
and devising has arguably become today. After Artaud, our theatres have begun to
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embrace the potential of sound not only to communicate other, non-verbal or self-
referential aspects of drama and human experience, but also to push the barriers of our
inner sense perceptions. The scenographic turn gives us at least two good reasons for a
different sensory rationale: the first is spatial thinking; the second is a return to a
theatre that has a logic in common with pre-dramatic forms. The former materialized
in the use of spatialization of sound for the stage, embracing immersive technologies;
the latter was most prominently formulated as ‘musicalization’ (Lehmann 2006;
Roesner 2003; Varopoulou 1998) and ‘chora-graphy’ as post-dramatic traits which
liberated the contemporary theatre stage from the restraints of goals (‘a space beyond
telos’), hierarchy and causal logic, hitherto defined by a verbal theatre text (Lehmann
1997, 56). In both developments, a choreographic turn was immanent, which would
enable us to conceptualize the physical, experiential and cultural barriers that sound
seeks to transgress.
However, when thinking about how spatialization and musicalization take centre
stage in a larger scenographic turn to sound design, and how these aesthetic
strategies are also grounded in a larger historical body of knowledge about the use of
sound on the modernist stage, I cannot but think how culturally and historically
contingent these principles are with regard to the audiences they try to activate and
satisfy. Surely, on-stage sonic experiments from the 1980s onwards did have political
meaning in a larger sense of a politics of the sensible (Rancière 2004), or in an
anarchist-inspired breaking with all hierarchies within the theatre sign system, which
led to Lehmann’s formulation of the post-dramatic as a larger paradigm shift
regarding spectatorship and devising. The post-dramatic theatre experimentations
were envisioned to reach other audiences whose senses – mostly visual – were already
being reshaped by mass media as well as rapidly evolving cinema aesthetics. So the
post-dramatic theatre sought again a greater integration of the audience in the
meaning-making process, or as Lehmann contends:

[P]ostdramatic theatre is not simply a new kind of text of staging – and even less a new type
of theatre text, but rather a type of sign usage in the theatre that turns both of these levels
of theatre upside down through the structurally changed quality of the performance text:
it becomes more presence than representation, more shared than communicated
Theatre and Performance Design 115

experience, more process than product, more manifestation than signification, more
energetic impulse than information. (Lehmann 2006, 85, original emphasis)

Despite the renewed communal aspects of this new way of experiencing theatre’s sign
systems – much like Artaud’s concrete language of signs as ‘hieroglyphs’ (Artaud
1958, 90) – on a practical basis, most of those investigations seem again to favour the
highly individual experience of the postmodern spectator. Moreover, it appears now
that we are slowly coming to an end of the post-dramatic paradigm, as it has been
criticized more recurrently for its ‘passé postmodern tools to describe an environment
in which harmless simulation of conflicts is a distant dream’ (Stegemann 2009, 22).
As new abrasive forms of applied, community and storytelling theatre indicate, a
more local and socially engaged outlook – with renewed attempts towards a re-
politicized theatre – is emerging, which embraces again the importance of the word
(and thereby the logos, both in its specific and widest sense) to discuss or at least pose
some questions to the problems of our late-capitalist times. It is in this transitional
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space, from theatre as aesthetic investigation to social interaction, from hyper-


individual to an ever-recurring collective experience, that the ‘sonic’ – with all its
transgressive and intangible potentiality as ‘vibration’ beyond metaphor – is in need
of redefinition.
Artaud was onto something: sound in the theatre can make us ‘abandon’ our
individual selves without necessarily losing ourselves. Now we must stay put and
take the potency of the social, with all its derisive and paradoxical mechanisms,
seriously.

5. Scene in the dark (Lynne Kendrick)


Scenography is not without sound. As an ‘orchestration’ of potentially all that which
constitutes theatre (see Butterworth and McKinney 2009), relinquishing the sonic is
not the aim of the scenographic. However, the idea of a post-sonic, scenographic
turn suggests a move away from sound, an implication that one belies the other. This
invites old divisions – of the sonic versus the visual, or ear versus eye – back into the
conversation, but perhaps this is for good reason. Sound has recently penetrated
theatre-making practices in ways that suggest the opposite turn, a move towards
sound, might be the case. The sound designer has, according to Carolyn Downing,4
recently emerged from the ‘tech box’ and, taking a position within the rehearsal
room, has embedded the sonic in the mix of theatre making. This, in turn, has
brought sound designers as theatre artists to the fore, Melanie Wilson and Adrienne
Quartly to name but two. This attention to the sonic is not merely a trend, often
dismissed as the happenstance of technological advances, or as symptomatic of
collaborative practice models. These instances of sonic scenography are emerging
because of possibility: theatre makers are drawn to the potential of sound for its
ability to generate scenography where visuality falls short.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in theatre in the dark, its scenography is
almost entirely sonic. This is an emergent form of theatre that is garnering much
interest, particularly in the UK, and it is one that takes the ‘blackout’ of mainstream
theatre – the negative space of stage and auditorium convention – as its base
material, the ground from which its scenography springs. In the darkness of
116 Adrian Curtin and David Roesner

Rosenberg and Neath’s ‘sound journeys’, the haptic dramaturgies of Extant Theatre
and the ‘white-out’ spaces of Lundahl and Seitl’s performance events, the ‘scene’ is
carved out of sound in all its incarnations. The visual space may at points appear –
seeded by visual prologues, or glimpses of shapes, contours and shades invented in
half-light – but the design is entirely sonic and, as such, the scenographic encounter is
primarily an aural experience. Thus, theatre in the dark places the perceptual
emphasis on audience rather than spectatorship; indeed the growing popularity of
this form of theatre is predicated on the less certain terrain of listening and the
unpredictable experiences this may offer. Any scene can be conjured in the dark.
When the first experiments with darkness took place at the Playing in the Dark
season (Battersea Arts Centre [BAC], London, 1998) some joked it was a neat
solution to budget cuts. No need for lights, no need for any material that makes
theatre visually evident. Yet the sonic scenography of darkness is more than visual
absence. Theatre in the dark entirely reinvents scenographic spaces, transporting
audiences and immersing us within them. This produces an aesthetic of uncertainty
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which frequently re-casts us as various subjects within its midst, questioning our
identity and our processes of identification. However, this is not a case of ‘not
seeing’; in the darkness we are invited to visualize a myriad of spectacles, but we see
through ears. Visuality falls short because it remains the object before us; separated
and distinct, it can only be gazed upon for all its pomp and expense. Sound, it is
often said, moves us and moves through us, and it is this subjective property that can
transform a scenographic design from object to an experience.
My response to the question as to whether a sonic or scenic ‘ography’ now takes
its turn, would be to ask: how much is the latter predicated on the former? Not in
terms of genealogy, but materially, in the case of theatre in the dark, entirely. It is not
necessary to seek a position for sound in all this; the sonic imposition is that a visual
can be entirely cast by sonic means. Moreover, this potential is ever present because
sound is never not present. It stalks scenography, haunts its perimeter, threatening to
challenge any residual visual bias. In this way sound is the noise in the scenographic
turn, but it is not an annihilation of it. Rather, as sound designers/theatre makers
have demonstrated, sound has the capacity to extend the reach of scenography, not
only beyond the finite realm of the visual object but beyond what we might
understand scenography to be. This development of what constitutes scenography is
integral to its emergence. As Patrice Pavis recently stated, ‘scenography extends its
power just as it loses its specificity’ (Pavis 2013, 73). Perhaps it is sound that signals a
scenographic turn?

6. Sensing atmospheres (George Home-Cook)


We tend to associate ‘scenography’ with the scenic, and hence with the seen.
Scenography, moreover, as the act and art of staging, is also, and fundamentally,
about design. Yet what precisely is design and how is it experienced? What is the
relationship between the sonic and the scenographic? And what part does the
audience play in shaping theatrical experience? In response to the suggestion that
we might be experiencing a ‘turn’ to scenography within theatre and performance
studies, I offer the following provocation: that rather than shifting our attention
from the sonic to the scenographic, and thus from one sensory faculty to another, we
should instead pay closer attention to the manifold ways in which audiences sense,
Theatre and Performance Design 117

and make sense of, designed theatrical environments or ‘atmospheres’. Theatre is


‘something perceived’ (Styan 1975, 30), and scenography is manifestly sensed. To
properly account for (and begin to understand) the ‘scenographic’, we must first
explore what it means to sound scenography.
The notion of scenography (at least as originally conceived) assumes that the world
of light, whether designed or otherwise, is quite separate from that of sound.
‘Scenography’, writes Ross Brown (2010, 134), ‘is traditionally associated with
perspective, whereas sound immerses not just the psychoacoustic mind, but the whole
body’. Yet how does such a distinction tally with the perceptual particularities of lived
experience? How accurate is it to depict visual perception in terms of detachment and
distance, while figuring sonic experience in terms of an all-encompassing, spherical
subjectivity? To compartmentalize our experience of visual and aural design in this
way is not only unhelpful, but phenomenologically untenable.

[T]he environment that we experience, know and move around in is not sliced up along
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the lines of the sensory pathways by which we enter into it. The world we perceive is the
same world, whatever path we take, and each of us perceives it as an undivided centre of
activity and awareness. (Ingold 2007, 10)

Audiences make sense of the phenomenal affordances of an environment (or


‘atmosphere’) through a dynamic, embodied and intersensorial process of attending
(see Home-Cook 2015).
The notion of ‘atmosphere’ not only provides an effective means of bypassing the
audiovisual (sonic/scenographic) divide, but also allows us to reconsider (the
phenomenology of) theatrical design. ‘In general, it can be said that atmospheres
are involved wherever something is being staged, wherever design is a factor – and
that now means: almost everywhere’ (Böhme 2013, 2). Atmosphere, theatricality and
design are thus intimately interwoven. Indeed, not only is atmosphere fundamental
to the phenomenon of theatre, but theatre would appear to present itself as the
readiest model for an aesthetics of atmosphere (Home-Cook 2015).
Design is fundamental to theatre, as are its definitive characteristics, namely,
playfulness, contrivance and manipulation. Theatrical design consciously strives to
manipulate audience attention, and hence to shape our perception of the theatrical
event. Yet, crucially, this is not a one-way process (cf. McKinney and Butterworth
2009, 4): theatrical experience is manifestly shaped not only by the machinations of
design, but by the inter-subjective attentional enactions of the audience. How we
attend affects our perception of what we perceive. Design may well demand our
attention, but how does the phenomenon of attention (and the inter-subjective act of
attending) shape our perception of theatrical design? What role does the listener-
spectator play in the process of shaping theatrical atmosphere(s)? What is thus called
for is a more dynamic and broad-ranging conception of performance design that not
only recognizes the essential enmeshment of the senses, but also acknowledges and
explores the inevitable slippage that exists (and that is continually played out)
between production and perception.
Theatre and performance design consists of a variety of different (and often quite
disparate) components, one of which comprises the scene/seen. However, rather than
segmenting the senses, and pitching sound against scenography, we should instead
begin to explore the manifest ways in which we ‘sense’ or feel our way around the
118 Adrian Curtin and David Roesner

designed theatrical environment. If we are to unravel the secrets and phenomenal


complexities of theatrical design, then perhaps it is to atmosphere(s), not sceno-
graphy, that we should turn our attention.

7. Sonic caves, walls, drifts and flood waves (Katharina Rost)


Contemporary understanding of scenography does not exclusively focus on the
things actually visible on stage, but more on the processes effected, felt, transmitted
or evoked between the stage and the audience – thus, on the performative dimension
of what is experienced (see Bohn and Wilharm 2013). The term ‘scenography’ in this
sense does not refer to a static setting, but to a dynamic and fragile process, a
‘component of performance’ (McKinney and Butterworth 2009, 3). Sound, thus
understood, is a means, among others, to generate the scenographic effects of the
performance. But even though sound is specified as a dimension of scenography in
contemporary theatre theory (see McKinney and Butterworth 2009; McKinney and
Iball 2011), the dominance of the visual might still easily prevail as, firstly, some
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approaches still abide by the predominance of visuality (for example, a notion of


scenography as a primarily visual art form is found in Balme 2014, 347; Collins and
Nisbet 2010, 1; Pavis 2009, 314; Tabacki 2014, 19).5 Secondly, sound enhances the
ephemerality of the relevant processes, which are therefore even more difficult to
grasp.6 Sound possesses specific qualities that are often described as fluid, dynamic,
diffuse and immersive see Kahn 1999, 27; Kim-Cohen 2009, xviii; Toop 1995; Toop
2010, 36; Voegelin 2010, 5, 10).7
Because of these qualities, sound is conceptualized as transitory and poses a
challenge to theatre studies. On the one hand, sound has to be ‘put into words’ for
an analysis of the auditory dimension of performances, but on the other hand, an
adequate terminology to describe what was actually heard and experienced aurally
and physically during performances still has to be refined, if not firstly developed in
many cases. In addition, the various and complex ways in which sound and
scenography are connected in contemporary theatre performances have not yet been
fully recognized by theatre studies. The employment of sound often exceeds or differs
from an illustrative, atmospheric or musical support of the stage setting. Instead of
just being a supportive means to convey a certain mood or to signalize a specific
social setting like birdsong, machine noise or music, in many theatre works sound
becomes one of the central aesthetic components and can even function as a way to
‘set the scene’. In abstract, conceptual and mostly post-dramatic forms of theatre,
sound is employed non-realistically, but also at the same time not just musically.
For example, in Falk Richter’s and Anouk van Dijk’s Trust (Berlin, 2009), the
scenography consisted in its visual components of an empty forestage with a few
standing microphones, a sofa and a lamp hanging from the stage ceiling, and high
scaffolds in the back, which could signify a construction site or a building torn open
on one side. It is an abstract scenographic structure that is open for interpretation
and possesses an affective impact in its specific material qualities, its height, its
metallic nature, its dark colours and its potentially temporary, changeable constitu-
tion. Beyond what is seen on stage, the sounds open up other spatial dimensions, and
in this regard can be described as a means to ‘set the scene’. Malte Beckenbach
composed the sound design in a way that during the first few minutes of the
performance the bass sounds evolved out of each other, like a series of increasingly
Theatre and Performance Design 119

powerful explosions, and simultaneously seemed to ‘move deeper’, thereby creating


in my perception the auditory impression of spatial depth in the direction of the
stage. The stage floor was flat and stretched out almost evenly in front of the
audience in the Schaubühne, but the sounds created a sonic landscape that I
perceived as interfering with the visual. For a short moment, there was a ‘depth’ in
front of me that I could not see, but hear – and feel. The bass sounds were so strong
that they made my whole body vibrate, and I could sense the sonic depth and width
physically. It therefore felt real, even though it was not visually verifiable, and it not
only created a sombre atmosphere as a background mood for the presented dance
movements and spoken text sequences, but it also caused physical and attentional
alertness in me through the deep bass sounds and vibrations. As the title suggests,
Trust deals mainly with the question of the (im-)possibility of trust, and thus, the
shaking of the ground on which we, the audience, are seated might not only stand as
symbolic for the ‘earthquake’ that broken trust might provoke (i.e. the ‘earth-
shattering’ insight that one was deceived by one’s beloved partner or that all one’s
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savings are gone due to the risky investments of the bank), but can also directly
produce that concrete impression in the listeners.8
Other examples of contemporary theatre in which sound is employed primarily in
a spatial and material way include: Gisèle Vienne’s Kindertotenlieder (Brest, 2007),
in which I remember how the bass sounds of the electronic noise music produced an
effect in me as a listener of confronting ‘hardness’; Meg Stuart’s Violet (Essen,
2011), in which the musician Brendan Dougherty produces layered sound streams
that in my listening experience did not mix or melt into one, but stayed separate in a
simultaneous juxtaposition in their temporal as well as spatial extension; and Romeo
Castellucci/Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio’s The Four Seasons Restaurant (Avignon,
2012), in which the sounds of a black hole were heard at such a high volume that
the seats and bodies trembled from the strong vibrations in the air so that I felt
overwhelmed by the heard, almost unbearable noise.9
How are sound designs to be described that are neither predominantly illustrative
nor primarily musical, but instead lead to the creation of sonic spaces and forces that
are not visible but audible and palpable? How can we write about and express the
experience of such diverse ‘sonic scenographies’? Sonic scenographies cannot merely
be categorized as ‘sound sculptures’, because they are embedded in a performance
that simultaneously consists of visual, audible and tactile perceptions that are deeply
intertwined.10 I suggest generating a vocabulary – or borrowing it from other
domains – that might allow us to describe felt sonic sensations. Regarding the
previous examples, I propose adopting terms from geology and transferring them to
auditory perceptions, thus speaking of a deep, hollow ‘sound cave’ in Trust, a ‘sound
wall’ in Kindertotenlieder, parallel ‘sound drifts’ in Violet and a powerful, strong
‘sound flood wave’ in The Four Seasons Restaurant.11 By using geological terms in
this metaphorical way to describe the listening experience in the aforementioned
performances, it becomes possible to clarify and point out the spatial, material and
physically affective dimensions of the sounds.12 Through sound, the scenographic
effect of the performance can feel smooth or broken, plain or bumpy, distant or near,
hard or soft, and thus has an impact on the listeners through this specific materiality.
Sound is not merely audible, but also sensible – and consequently it also possesses
qualities comparable to visible things, i.e. resistance, hardness, jaggedness, or
layeredness. Sound can create and shape space, and when it does it is a scenographic
120 Adrian Curtin and David Roesner

process (see Birringer 2013).13 Sound design in this way demonstrates that appearance,
spatiality, plasticity, perspective, encounters, collisions or distance are not bound to
visual perception and visibility, but can be effected by sonic scenographies that should
be explored further in the future as essential scenographic elements of theatre.14

8. Turning (Adrian Curtin)


There’s a saying of Gertrude Stein that I sometimes think about when at the theatre:
‘I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it’ ([1933] 1990, 4). The
contrariness of this position – acknowledging a view but opting not to attend to it,
deriving pleasure from turning away – amuses me, and I have sometimes used it to
justify closing my eyes at a performance and only focusing on what I can hear. This
is, admittedly, a somewhat perverse thing to do, as few theatre pieces, with the
exception of ‘theatre in the dark’-style experiments by British company Sound&
Fury, for example, hone in on one sense to the apparent detriment of another.
Theatre typically works to engage the senses holistically so that what one sees is
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invariably inflected by what one hears, and vice versa, often without our full
awareness. Consequently, when analysing theatre sound one must be mindful of the
sight, touch, feel, smell and perhaps even taste of performance, and account for the
potential interaction of these modalities—and not just in ‘immersive’ theatre. As I
have written elsewhere, ‘[t]he goal is not to disentangle sensory effects but rather to
reveal the significance of their entanglement and highlight aspects that might go
unnoticed or unremarked in the experiential flux of perception’ (Curtin 2014, 6).
Does it matter, then, that some audience members may attend performance
contrariously or in an idiosyncratic fashion? I think it does.
The mooted ‘scenographic turn’ would appear to promote a holistic engagement
with the intersensorial aspects of performance, as opposed to the ostensibly more
niche concerns of sonic enthusiasts. And yet this supposed turn of events does not
ring true. Semioticians and other theorists of mise-en-scène have long endeavoured to
analyse the constituent elements of performance and explain their complex interplay.
Similarly, sound scholars have sought to understand how hearing works dynamically
with the other senses; they have not tried to institute a ‘countermonopoly of the ear’,
to borrow a phrase from Erlmann (2004, 4). Therefore, attempting to plot a linear
‘progress’ narrative with respect to scholarship on sound and scenography is tricky,
and possibly misguided. After all, ‘sound studies’, as a perpetually emergent, not-
quite-cohesive-or-unified interdisciplinary field, has not advanced a singular set of
interests, apart from helping to dismantle ocularcentrism. There is a shared
vocabulary, yet some terms remain contested and vaguely used (e.g. soundscape).
It has never been clear where sound studies is ‘going’, if anywhere, how it will
develop or if it will get folded into ‘sensory studies’. The intersection of sound studies
with theatre and performance studies is equally uncertain in this regard. One cannot
suppose, then, that the sonic/acoustic ‘turn’ is necessarily at an end, or has been
made redundant by the recent, renewed interest in the conceptual possibilities and
sociocultural importance of the ‘scenographic’ (broadly construed). We should be
wary of blindly following the latest academic ‘turn’, especially if this involves a
turning away from other, still potentially productive, areas of enquiry. Scholarship in
the humanities does not follow neat paradigm shifts. This may be a good thing. As
Doris Bachmann-Medick remarks:
Theatre and Performance Design 121

Are we really progressing in our knowledge of culture? Findings from cultural studies
don’t simply make their way rung by rung up a progressive ladder of paradigms, one
replacing the other. Instead, they emerge because of the recurrent, new changes of
theoretical attention from within a theoretical landscape where the eclectic coexistence
of ‘turns’ becomes productive. (Bachmann-Medick and Buden 2008)

The challenge for contemporary scholars is to engage the coexistence of multiple


theoretical turns, integrating insights from the linguistic turn, the spatial turn, the
performative turn and so on into their analyses without simply being faddish.
I turn to some thoughts on the future of scholarship on theatre and performance
sound. Scholars will, I hope, continue to examine the sociocultural significance and
historical specificity of how audiences individually and collectively make sense of
sound in performance, highlighting the peculiarities and contrariety of these processes.
We should protect against making assumptions that are transhistorical, universalist or
ableist (i.e. that normalize able-bodied people). There are many ways of responding to
sound in performance and all are potentially valid. Yet there is not enough scholarship
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on deaf theatre or on how differently-abled audience members make sense of theatre


sound, for instance.15 Formalist, taxonomic studies that treat the ‘performance text’
as an autonomous entity, a closed circuit, are defunct. We have only begun to sound
out the acoustic aspects of theatre history. The promise of the ‘scenographic turn’, as
with all scholarly turns, is that the ‘theoretical landscape’ in which scholarship takes
place might be revitalized and reimagined. The ‘scenographic turn’, if this is more
than just a turn of phrase, could (or should?) be sonorous, if not downright noisy.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Notes
1. See, for example, Brown (2010); Curtin (2014); Home-Cook (2015); Kendrick and Roesner
(2011); Ovadija (2013); Roesner (2014); Symonds and Taylor (2014); Verstraete (2009).
2. See, for example, http://soundscenography.com/post/94140598815/fruehling-erwachen-klangs
zenografie-im-theater; http://xmodal.hexagram.ca/projects/interactive-real-time-acoustic-scen
ography-for-live-stage-environments; or http://www.hands-on-sound.com/?lang=en (all acces‐
sed 7 October 2014).
3. See Kahn (2001, 356–357) on the notion of vibrational space in Artaud’s Le théâtre et son
Double (1938).
4. Downing, speaking at the Theatre Sound Colloquium, Royal Central School of Speech
and Drama (RCSSD), Association of Sound Designers (ASD) and Royal National
Theatre (RNT), June 2013.
5. Even though the editors Jane Collins and Andrew Nisbet include sound-related articles in
their publication, in their introduction they define scenography as the ‘visual composition
of performance’ (Collins and Nisbet 2010, 1). In his dictionary article on ‘Scénographie’,
Patrice Pavis speaks of scenography as an art form that is related to primarily visual art
like sculpture and architecture, although his definition as ‘la science et l’art de
l’organisation de la scène et de l’espace théâtral’ (Pavis 2009, 314) might be employed
to include the kind of ‘sound scenography’ that my text is highlighting.
6. To comprehend the sonic dimension of scenography it is necessary to let go of the
importance of visibility and visuality. In this regard the term ‘effect’ and the metaphor of
‘magic’ are central in Heiner Wilharm’s and Ralf Bohn’s publication on scenography and
its impact (cf. Bohn and Wilharm 2013, 19–20).
122 Adrian Curtin and David Roesner

7. Because of the ascription of these qualities, sound was often described by the analogy to
an ‘ocean’ in which the listeners are immersed (cf. Toop 1995). It is a traditional trope
within theories of listening and sound and in my opinion it can be connected to and
aligned with the proposal of further geological analogies in my text.
8. Scenographic elements and processes are perceived in two modes: in the semiotic and the
performative dimension, because they can be understood as signs for something referred
to on stage (i.e. a social setting) and they possess a specific materiality which can have an
affective impact on the audience (cf. Fischer-Lichte 2001). The same can be said about
‘sonic scenography’ as the sounds tend to provoke the ascription of a reference (of an
‘earthquake’, for example), while at the same time through their ‘materiality’ (which is
their specific ‘sounding’), they might have a direct physical effect on the listeners. Both
dimensions are only heuristically separable, but for the analysis of ‘sonic scenography’ it is
important to differentiate them.
9. The music for Vienne’s Kindertotenlieder is produced live on stage by the collaborative
project KTL, consisting of Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg. For Castellucci’s The
Four Seasons Restaurant, the sound design was created by Scott Gibbons.
10. They also do not fall into the category of ‘aural architecture’ because that term is defined
as primarily referring to the way that architecture manifests itself aurally to the perceivers/
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listeners, but not as the manner in which sound itself is used to actually create
‘architectural shapes’ in space (cf. Blesser and Salter 2007, 2–3).
11. These are only a few examples of how sound actually shapes, or rather generates, the
space of the performance. Many other works could be mentioned in this context. Also,
I thank Adrian Curtin for highlighting that the theme of the 2014 International
Federation of Theatre Research (IFTR) conference was ‘Theatre & Stratification’ and
posed the question ‘How is theatre stratified?’ (see http://iftr2014warwick.org/theme/). It
emphasizes the relevance of further analysis of the forms and the impact of ‘sonic
geology’. Besides a more metaphoric – historical, dramaturgical or social – employment of
the term ‘stratification’, it could be shown that theatre can be concretely stratified
sonically insofar as different ‘layers’ of sound are created and arranged side by side or
intertwined in a complex manner.
12. To draw such a terminological analogy between audible and geological phenomena has its
limits, as the materiality of the denoted phenomena differs in its specific qualities (as a visible
rock is harder than a ‘rock-like’ sound, etc.) and because these terms might only be applicable
to a series of particular and highly distinctive theatre sound compositions. Still, in my opinion
there is a lot to gain from this terminological analogy since it becomes possible to highlight
the strong, diverse and complex affective impact some sound designs possess and it permits us
to go further than just emphasizing the spatial and material dimensions of sound: it gives us
tools to begin to differentiate certain shapes and forms of various sound spatialities. Even
though a visible rock might be ‘harder’ in the way that we cannot pass through it, unlike a
rock-like sound, the experience of touching the rock or being ‘touched’ by a rock-like sound
might be similar and comparable. To employ the geological terms opens up the possibility to
emphasize, describe and classify the affective, physical effect of the audible.
13. This could almost seem like an inversion of the relation of space and sound according to
room acoustics after which the spatial proportions, conditions and the used materials
define the resulting sound. In the mentioned examples, digital audio technology is
employed to create sonically defined shapes and spaces. But instead of an inversion I
suggest to assume an overlayering of different spatialities; the sonic does not erase the
visual space, but they enter a relation of mutual influence and interference.
14. Regarding the question of methodology, it would be possible and interesting to continue
this exploration in various ways, i.e. through further descriptive-interpretative analyses of
listening experiences by theatre scholars, but also through empirical qualitative research,
questioning the audience about their listening experiences to derive further ideas for
adequate terms and further potential fields of analogy.
15. For some notable exceptions, see Kochhar-Lindgren (2006) and Kendrick (2011).
Theatre and Performance Design 123

Notes on contributors
Ross Brown is Professor of Sound and Dean of Studies at the Royal Central School of Speech
and Drama, University of London. He has been researching the dramaturgy of sound since
1994, prior to which he investigated it for 10 years as a professional composer and performer
of theatre noise and music.
Adrian Curtin is a Lecturer in the Drama Department at the University of Exeter. He is the
author of Avant-Garde Theatre Sound: Staging Sonic Modernity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
and assorted articles and book chapters on theatre sound, music and modernism.
George Home-Cook is an independent theatre practitioner-researcher, based in the UK. He is
the author of Theatre and Aural Attention: Stretching Ourselves (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
Lynne Kendrick is a Senior Lecturer in New Theatre Practices at the Royal Central School of
Speech and Drama, University of London. Her publications include “A Paidic Aesthetic,” in
Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (2011), Theatre Noise: The Sound of Performance
co-edited with David Roesner (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011) and “Mimesis and
Remembrance,” in Performance Research: On Technology (2012). Lynne is a founding
member and trustee of Camden People’s Theatre, a north London venue that produces
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contemporary experimental theatre and performance.


David Roesner is Professor for Theatre and Music-Theatre at the Ludwig-Maximilians-
University, Munich and has recently published his monograph Musicality in Theatre
(Ashgate, 2014).
Katharina Rost is currently finishing her PhD in Theatre Studies at the Freie Universität
Berlin with a focus on listening and attention dynamics in contemporary theatre performances
in Germany. Her main research interests are sound and listening in theatre performances,
gender and queer theory, pop music and star images, performance theory, phenomenology
and methodological questions of Theatre Studies.
Nicholas Till is a theatre practitioner, theorist and historian working mainly in opera and
music theatre. He is currently Professor of Opera and Music Theatre and Leverhulme
Research Fellow at the University of Sussex.
Pieter Verstraete is Assistant Professor of American Culture and Literature in Hacettepe
University Ankara and Honorary University Fellow at the University of Exeter. He has
published in Sonic Mediations (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), Performance Research
(2011), Theatre Noise (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), The Legacy of Opera (Rodopi,
2013), and has also co-edited Inside Knowledge (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009) and
Cathy Berberian: Pioneer of Contemporary Vocality (Ashgate, 2014).

References
Appia, Adolphe. 1962. Musique et le mise en scène (1897), translated as Adolphe Appia’s
Music and the Art of the Theatre. Translated by Robert W. Corrigan and Mary Douglas
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Appia, Adolphe. 1993. “Actor, Space, Light, Painting (1919).” In Adolphe Appia: Texts on
Theatre, edited by Richard C. Beacham, 114–115. London and New York: Routledge.
Artaud, Antonin. 1958. The Theater and Its Double. Translated by Mary Caroline Richards.
New York: Grove Press.
Auslander, Philip. 2006. “Musical Personae.” TDR: The Drama Review 50 (1, T 189):
100–119.
Bachmann-Medick, Doris, and Boris Buden. 2008. “Cultural Studies – A Translational
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