Research seminar. Jon Hughes and Stef Conner: 'Hearing Lost Worlds'

Wednesday 24 October 2018, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Jon Hughes and Stef Conner

Modern scholarship rightly reminds us of the impossibility of transcending either the individual subjectivity or the contemporary cultural conditioning that permeate our conceptualisation of sound in the ancient world. This would be the case even if we were able to view the past as a perfectly preserved object, neither distorted by the lens of memory nor degraded by the passing of time. Of course it is not so—all that remains is fragments, vestiges, and tantalising clues, which raise more questions than they can ever answer. Whatever the sources we engage with, and whatever discipline grounds our enquiry—be it the study of material evidence, archaeoacoustics, philology, palaeography and/or experimental performance—the one thing we can be certain about is that certainty itself will always elude us. Scholarly responses to this methodological challenge have ranged from brazenly fanciful to incapacitated by caution. Correspondingly, it is often assumed that any attempt to reanimate ancient soundscapes in the modern world can be no more than a fictional reimagining, the alternative to which is simply silence. However Jon Hughes and Stef Conner argue that silence is itself as much of a fiction as the inaccurate 're'construction of sound. Today they discuss their own approaches to sound archaeology, which strive towards a form of speculative reconstruction that focuses more on illuminating perception and process than producing verifiable results, bringing sound to the study of the ancient world, they hope, without misleading those who hear it.

Stef Conner draws on ancient poetry and song to create contemporary music infused with imagined sounds from the distant past. She studied music at the University of York before joining the Mercury Prize-nominated folk band the Unthanks, which ignited a lifelong devotion to traditional English song. Her research at University of Huddersfield allows her to indulge her passion for antiquity in greater depth, moving beyond contemporary composition into the murky and controversial realm of ancient historical performance. Further information: www.stefconner.com.

Jon Hughes works collaboratively as a composer with artists and researchers from a number of different fields, including contemporary dance, the visual arts, biology, theatre, physics and archaeology. In 2015 to 2017, Jon was a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of York, working with archaeologists to develop ways in which sound and composition can be used to explore the biography of landscape. Further information: JonHughesmusic.com.

Location: D/003, Sally Baldwin D Block