Inaugural lecture: “The University of Sound, The Sound University—in Theory”

The omens aren’t good. The Arts and Humanities Research Council and Arts Council England budgets have been cut. University departments are facing closure. Long-term underfunding has left secondary music education in a parlous state. Despite the rhetoric, government policies are threatening to make music and related arts the preserve of the few. At this conjuncture, I sketch out another future for a university throughout which sound—in thought and practice—would resonate broadly, cutting across disciplinarity and permeating the ways in which the university addresses itself internally and to the wider world. Relying on a felicitous homonym in English, I exploit the adjectival sense of sound to enquire after the health and integrity of the university in the years ahead. Further, I ask what role “the university of sound” has to play in sounding out planetary wellbeing in the face of multiple crises of climate catastrophe, runaway inequality, democratic disaffection, revanchist ethnonationalisms, and proliferating forms of extractivism. As a provocation, I set out an intellectual and political project, driven by transdisciplinary theories of sound, for the Du Boisian abolition and reconstruction of the university as a democratic institution. In this vision, “the sound university” of the future would assume the mantle of auscultating the world and of returning echoes that imagine and remake it otherwise.