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Yann Seznec's 50% seminar, "Play/Destroy"

Yann passed his 50% seminar and is formally halfways to a dissertation!

Published onJun 20, 2024
Yann Seznec's 50% seminar, "Play/Destroy"
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It’s busy times at the end of the term, but a dozen people still joined Yann Seznec’s 50% seminar with additional dozen+ participants joining online (including the discussant).

The invitation that was disseminated a few days in advance titled the event “Play/Destroy: Sonic interactions for a dying world”. This title was too simple and the playful title as presented at the seminar was:

“Play/Destroy: Sonic interactions for a dying change disappearing complicated post-human sustainable world”

The discussant was Noura Howell from GeorgiaTech, School of Literature, Media, and Communication (professional website, personal website). Her task was to provide feedback and perhaps also suggestions for how he could proceed during the “second half” of his phd.

Figure 1

Yann (sitting) and his main advisor Rob Comber. There are three “design exemplars” on the table in front of Yann.

Reflections

Yann’s work is situated in the intersection of sound and sustainability. An important part of his work is to critique and explore alternatives to the cornucopian paradigm and to cornucopian design, i.e. the idea that there will always be more of everything (more bandwidth and more always-available content). The cornucopian paradigm is a background assumption in computing in general as well as in Yann’s particular area of interest, (the design of) sound technologies. Yann is thus interested in exploring how to design with and for constraints, e.g. how can we “degrow” and use less rather than more as outlined in an early paper of his, “Music within Limits”.

Yann’s main method is Research through Design (RtD). RtD prioritises the making of things and where making becomes the prime mover of the research. that means that Yann has played and explored sound, time, memory, (in)permanence, sustainability and destruction in order think about sound, time, memory, (in)permanence, sustainability and destruction. He has designed and built a number of “design exemplars” and then analysed them in different ways and his first design exemplar was “the singing shower” where you had to sing in the shower for the shower to endow you with its water.

At the seminar Yann said that he “could be making and making and making, but am I missing something and when do I need to stop?”. This lead to discussions about academic knowledge, about the contribution of a phd thesis, about methods for evaluating Yann’s design exemplars and about the balance between doing for himself (because it’s interesting and fun) and doing for other (legible as a contribution the academic community, e.g. what will others be able to learn about sound, music and sustainability from Yann’s work?).

I see connections between Yann’s questions about sound, time, memory and (in)permanence and journalist/musician/economic historian Rasmus Fleischer’s sleek 2009 book “Det postdigitala manifestet: Hur musik äger rum” [The postdigital manifesto: How music happens] since it raises many similar questions. I don’t know if Yann’s Swedish is up to it, but a scanned copy of the book can be be found online (the publishing house has ceased to exist). I also suspect that Rasmus’s 2016 massive (600+ pages) phd thesis “Musikens politiska ekonomi: lagstiftningen, ljudmedierna och försvaret av den levande musiken, 1925–2000” [The political economy of music, abstract in English here] could be relevant, but I haven’t read it myself.

Thank you for your work, Yann, and good luck with the “second half” of your phd!

Yann’s abstract for the 50% seminar:

Over the past two and a half years my doctoral research has looked into interactive sound technology and sustainability, with a particular focus on how constraints-based design can reveal and explore overlaps between the two.

Sound technology, like all computing technology, is biased against sustainability. My research examines this through a primary lens of political ecology, looking at how this leads to an embedded cornucopian ideal of technology design. From a sound perspective I look at the uneasy relationship between sound recording and time, showing how sound technology design has been guided (and limited) by these problematic computing paradigms.

I use a Research through Design approach to open up these questions for discussion, creating exemplars that can be used to think and argue with. This has led to a number of prototypes, with more planned - the seminar will thus provide some background on the concepts that are being explored but focus mainly on the designs that have been generated.

Several accepted papers, and one currently under review, will be discussed. I will conclude with some discussion of what is missing from the work and present a plan for the remaining two years of the PhD.

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