Seminar in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies: The Planetization of Machine Listening

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The Planetization of Machine Listening

This paper addresses an emerging literature in which computer scientists, bio- and eco-acousticians, and their state and industry partners propose installing machine listening systems throughout the biosphere for ecological purposes, and especially in response to climate change. In this literature, nowhere and no sounds are off-limits. Smart cities, skies, rivers, oceans, seas, ice caps, forests, parks, roads, and reefs. What is being imagined is the full ‘planetization’ (Hui 2020) of audio AI: the automated monitoring, analysis, modulation, and governance of both human and non-human planetary systems by means of computational renderings of the soundscape. Where does all this lead, I wonder? What trajectory is being embarked upon? What kind of planet would the planetization of machine listening make? What kinds of human and nonhuman subjects inhabiting it? What types of institutions might the implementation of machine listening at earth magnitude require? Wielding and subject to which forms of power?


James Parker is an Associate Professor at Melbourne Law School, where he works across legal scholarship, art criticism, curation, and production. Since 2020, he has been working with curator Joel Stern and artist Sean Dockray on Machine Listening, a platform for research, sharing, and artistic experimentation, focused on the critique of new and emerging forms of listening grounded in artificial intelligence and machine learning. James is a current Australia Research Council DECRA fellow, former visiting fellow at the Program for Science, Technology and Society at the Harvard Kennedy School for Government, and sits on the advisory board of Earshot, an NGO specialising in audio forensics.

5.15-6.30 PM. Followed by a reception

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Co-presented by the Faculty of Music and SONCITIES