Sound and Anthropology

A collaboration in St Andrews from 19th-21st June 2006 between Social Anthropology, St Andrews University and Sound Arts and Design, London College of Communication. Funded by the AHRC and the British Academy.

Introduction to the Project

The works are listed under the programme of the conference, and we also have a selection of student work.

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audioplay a sound sample

videoplay a video

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This web publication grew out of an AHRC and British Academy funded training programme and conference. It centres on the interface between two disciplines – anthropology and sound art. The project came about quite by chance, - the product of the fertile soil of coincidental meetings and events, staying with old friends while travelling, browsing each others bookcases, talking ideas late into the night, and listening to each other's sound libraries.

A collaborative project was born which involved training Scottish anthropology postgraduates in sound art skills and theory, and London-based sound artists in qualitative research methods and anthropology. From St Andrews, Stephanie Bunn co-ordinated the project, and along with Huon Wardle led sessions in anthropological methods and theory at London College of Communication. From London College of Communication, Cathy Lane co-ordinated, and Peter Cusack and John Wynne led sessions for St Andrews in sound recording, editing and sound art. Adam Reed, Andrew Whitehouse, Angus Carlyle and Cathy Lane led additional sessions. Over 60 students were involved in the training programme which culminated in a retreat at the Burn Centre in Edzell, where students prepared presentations which they later presented at the project conference, alongside such experts in their fields as Steven Feld, Colwyn Trevarthen, Wendy James and David Toop.

It was the anthropologist's desire to understand the many ways that sound can be meaningful, coupled with the artist's ability to 'think outside the box', - leading to talk of thunderstorms harmonizing with jazz concerts and 'contrapuntal conversations' - which gave us the theme of the conference – 'The Body, the Environment, and Human Sound-making'. This conference, with its many complementary papers and presentations, you see and hear here now. Steven Feld suggested that a new form of media might help give the papers the voice they needed. We took this advice, and hope that the possibility to hear the sounds and see the visuals of many of the papers as you read them gives an important new dimension to the conference proceedings.

Alongside papers given at the time, we include some additional presentations and interviews to show the present work of some of those involved. We would like this project and its outcomes to form an important compendium for key themes in this interdisciplinary area, which participants from both fields address in different, but complementary ways.

Stephanie Bunn, July 2008


Dr Stephanie Bunn is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews. Before coming into Anthropology as a mature student, she worked as a sculptor, performer and curator, and now does research at the interdisciplinary boundaries between Anthropology and the Arts. Her research among Kyrgyz pastoralists in Central Asia has focussed on human-environment relations and the home, specifically on the relationship between the body, the home and the wider environment. Key themes have included animals, food and feasting, poetics, textiles, space and perception.

Her current research is on sound, performance and environment in Kyrgyz oral poetry, and how society moves from the past to the future through people, sounds and objects. Recent publications include Kyrgyzstan, on the work of Kyrgyz ethnographer Klavdiya Antipina and Kyrgyz painter Temirbek Musakeev, and her ethno-historical study of nomadic felt textiles is shortly to be published by the British Museum Press.

Cathy Lane is interested in how sound relates to the past, our histories, our environment and our collective and individual memories. This informs her current work as a composer, lecturer and researcher. Aspects of her creative practice has developed out of these interests and concern composition with spoken word, field recordings and archive material and writing and lectures on these and related subjects.

Much recent work has been collaborative. Works made with choreographer Rosemary Butcher have been performed worldwide. The latest of these, Hidden Voices, a dance installation piece, reached the final of the The Place Prize in 2004 and has been shown at Tate Modern, London and broadcast on Channel 4 television. Previous works related to sound, history and memory include Hidden Lives (a multi channel site specific sound installation) and The Memory Machine (an interactive sound installation premiered at Cybersonica at the ICA, London in 2002 and further developed for the British Museum exhibition The Museum of the Mind: Art and Memory in World Cultures in 2003).

Cathy Lane established the department of Sound Art and Design and now co - directs Creative Research in Sound Arts Practice, (CRiSAP) at the University of the Arts, London.