Urban Algorhythms

On Monday, SHL was lucky enough to have Prof Shannon Mattern visit the virtual lab for a fascinating seminar on ‘Urban Algorhythms.’ Shannon’s talk situated contemporary and emerging practices of macro-scale listening within a broad historical frame, tracing a genealogy from diagnostic auscultation, and articulated and explored some of the tricky ethical and epistemological questions around sonic surveillance and the stewardship of the city’s many dynamic ecologies and systems.

A recording of the seminar is available here, and you may also be interested in this recent article in the journal Places.

Prof Shannon Mattern’s research and teaching address how the forms and materialities of media are related to the spaces (architectural, urban, and conceptual) they create and inhabit. She writes about libraries and archives, media infrastructures, the material qualities of media objects, media companies’ headquarters and sites of media-related labor, place branding, public design projects, urban media art, and mediated sensation. She is the author of The New Downtown Library; Deep Mapping the Media City; and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: 5000 Years of Urban Media, all published by the University of Minnesota Press. She is a professor of anthropology at The New School in New York City. Twitter: @shannonmattern.

This event was part of the SHL lockdown seminar series. Please also join us on 1 June for Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn on ‘Sensory Cartographies.’

SHL Lockdown Seminar Series


Covid-19 reminds us how interconnected we are: globally as the human species, and biologically as members of the animal kingdom; it also reminds us that the social, economic, ecological, political and technological dimensions and dynamics of our world are similarly intrinsically coupled.

How can we better think across and beyond disciplines to celebrate and harness these entanglements in the (re)design of our technological, economic and social infrastructures for the benefit of all living organisms?

In the SHL lockdown seminars we invite scholars and artists from a range of disciplines whose work critiques our techno-cultural infrastructures in ways that help us imagine how we can #BuildBackBetterForAll.

Mon 18 May 2020 – 2pm (BST)
Prof Shannon Mattern (Department of Anthropology at The New School in New York)
Urban Algorhythms

Attendance is free and open to all; please register here.

Human bodies often render their internal operations audible, and for centuries healers have used auscultation — the practice of listening to the body, typically aided by gadgets and machines — to assess the body’s health and diagnose ailments. Cities, likewise, have lent themselves to sonic analysis, and they’ve been likened to both bodies and machines. This talk examines how methods of urban listening, through human and machinic ears, have “sounded out” the city as an organic or machinic body — and how new artificially intelligent ears are “scoring” the city in accordance with their own computational logic.

Shannon Mattern is a Professor of Anthropology at the New School for Social Research. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities; Deep Mapping the Media City; and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, all published by University of Minnesota Press; and The City Is Not a Computer, forthcoming from Princeton University Press. She contributes a regular long-form column about urban data and mediated infrastructures to Places Journal, and she collaborates on public design and interactive projects and exhibitions. You can find her at wordsinspace.net.

Shannon Mattern

Mon 1 June 4pm (BST)
Sensory Cartographies – Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn (independent artist-researchers, NL) – Artist talk

Attendance is free and open to all; please register here.

When humans experience an environment, our bodies are constantly working at filtering vast streams of sensory impressions to make sense of the world. This filtration is not only an evolutionary development, but is also a learned process of culturally conditioned attention. At its very core, our perception of being in a place is neither universal nor neutral. From hand-drawn maps and coordinate systems to LIDAR and GPS – spatial technologies codify aspects of the world and expand the scale of our senses and memory. However, as Jennifer Gabrys points out, sensors (and mapping technologies) do not merely record information about an environment – they also generate new environments and environmental relations. The artistic project Sensory Cartographies is a response to these themes. Together, Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn, work on multidisciplinary artworks that explore alternative ways of knowing the land to counter the ubiquitous “top down”, “observe and control” impulse. Rather than placing the human in the position of overseer, our methods scramble the hierarchies between human, non-human, technological and ecological.

Sensory Cartographies is a collaboration between composer Jonathan Reus and artist-researcher Sissel Marie Tonn. The Sensory Cartographer seeks to explore extreme and information-rich environments; developing an understanding of these spaces through mediated forms of attention and mindfulness towards physiological, psychological and cognitive movements. We create wearable technologies and neuro-sensory attunement instruments that attempt to renegotiate techniques of cartography, collection, categorization and navigation originating the in colonial “golden age” of botany, drawing a line between these impulses to categorise nature to modern measurement and monitoring technologies. A living document of this work can be found at researchcatalogue.net.

Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn
Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn

SHL Environmental Strategy launch

Today we are launching the Sussex Humanities Lab Environmental Strategy.

Sussex Hums Lab Enviro Strategy

This document sets out our current thinking on how SHL stands in relation to the global environmental emergency, and to the demanding and necessary target, set by the current UK government, of achieving net zero carbon by 2050.

It affirms our commitment to explore and mitigate the carbon intensity and ecological impact of our core Digital Humanities work, despite the many uncertainties this entails. Our work can contribute to global heating and ecological destruction, and it can contribute to mitigation and resilience.

It also affirms our commitment to continue to advocate for the wider system change necessary across society, and where relevant, to use our specific expertise to support and to scrutinise, to help ensure that the perspectives of the Digital Humanities are included in these complex transitions.

We believe that these ambitions go hand-in-hand with the small everyday actions that prefigure ecological sustainability. Here’s a snippet from one of the appendices, ‘In Praise of Smaller Actions’:

Smaller actions can demonstrate and cultivate a practical willingness to make changes in our everyday lives. Because the bigger changes of net zero will demand many such changes, it is important that we explore what such changes feel like, and the ripple effects they may have. It is important that we cultivate narratives, skills, and ways of thinking around these changes, so we know what to embrace, what to resist, and what to re-imagine. When done creatively and reflectively, those smaller actions can even be a kind of practice-led research into climate sustainability and climate resilience. They can be ‘cognitive’: they are a way of finding things out, and a form of knowledge in themselves.

Get in touch

This document is a reference point for all Sussex Humanities Lab Members and Associates. But we also hope it will be a way of making connections with the wider world.

The Sussex Humanities Lab includes some STEM expertise, and we frequently collaborate with STEM researchers, including environmental scientists. Our members also include researchers in the environmental humanities. However, we are not the experts on environmental science, policy, or emergency. The SHL Environmental Strategy is a living document which gives current estimation of the situation we are facing. We welcome qualifications, criticisms, and suggested revisions.

We also welcome opportunities to build our own capacity, and to explore future research collaboration with academics and non-academic partners. The Sussex Humanities Lab has an extensive portfolio of externally funded projects, which we continually look to expand. We also host visiting researchers to run seminars and workshops, and welcome enquiries from prospective doctoral students and Visiting Fellows. As set out in more detail in the document, we would be especially interested to hear from those who are working on, or who have an interest in, the following:

  • Covid-19, digital technology, and the environment
  • The materiality of the digital, including the perceived ethereality of the digital
  • Climate futures in culture, policy, and science
  • Carbon coloniality
  • Critical resilience
  • The politics and cultures of offsetting
  • The embodiment of academic research and collaboration
  • Negative emissions and other climate technology
  • Agonistic climate action

Here’s one last snippet:

The world has started to burn. There have been some interesting debates about the usefulness about this apocalyptic idiom: does it really help to convert the urgency of our situation into practical action? But setting aside the complex emotional implications of mentioning it, the world has actually started to burn: the effects of global heating are already being felt around the world through heatwaves, wildfires, drought and famine, as well as wildlife extinction, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events such as storms and flooding. Enormous economic damage, human displacement, and deaths attributable to climate change are no longer mere forecasts: they are daily news. These are tragedies, not omens.


The Virtual Nightingale + future seminars

7 May: David Rothenberg’s The Virtual Nightingale: A Performance/Lecture (Emute)

To celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day and the dramatic reduction in anthropogenic acoustic smog, special guest speaker / performer David Rothenberg will be giving next week’s Emute seminar.

Thursday, May 7,  4pm (BST) on Zoom
Open to all: please register

Rothenberg, author of Why Birds Sing and Nightingales in Berlin, veteran performer with nature sounds near and far, will discuss his work with nightingales and underwater pond insects, explaining why human music can be enhanced by taking the sounds of the natural world seriously.

Future SHL seminar events

Covid-19 reminds us how interconnected we are: globally as a species and biologically as members of the animal kingdom; it also reminds us that the social, economic, ecological, political and technological dimensions/ dynamics of our world are just as intrinsically coupled.

As we prepare to create the “new normal,” how can we better think across and beyond disciplines to celebrate and harness these entanglements in the (re)design of our technological, economic and social infrastructures, such as can serve, support and nourish socio-environmental dynamics for the benefit of all living organisms?

In a recent article, Lenton and Latour revisit Lovelock and Margulis’s famous Gaia hypothesis, which posits the Earth as a synergistic, self-regulating system.

[…] it is important to have a second look at the connection between the original Gaia concept and a possible Gaia 2.0, because the original Gaia has many traits that were not detectable in earlier notions of nature associated with the development of Western civilization. Before the Anthropocene, Western societies saw themselves as the only conscious agents in a passive material environment.

Watch this space for details of forthcoming virtual events, exploring the role of the technosphere among myriad other adaptive systems, and how the Digital Humanities can contribute to reshaping the material reality we all live in and through, perhaps realising Lenton and Latour’s aspiration of ‘Gaia 2.0.’