Published in 2017 in The Routledge Companion to Sounding Art
History isn’t just what humans say and do. Events and entities that are irreducible to concepts: such things are also history. Alongside people and their descriptions and discussions, nonhumans do historical work, recording and remembering history. This means that history is felt, heard, seen, tasted, smelled, and done, as much as it is written and spoken. It means that accounts of history are always incomplete, especially discursive ones, and that some aspects of history are beyond human understanding. Sound art can do some historical work that language can’t. Like any artwork, a sound artwork isn’t a description of the past but a presencing of the past in the here-and-now. But unlike film and visual art, sound artworks, especially installations and sound sculptures, rely as much on hearing and touch as they do on seeing. Unlike music, in which humans use dedicated instruments to express ideas and emotions, sound art is also a self-expression of nonhumans who exist for purposes other than those of human artists. In sound art nonhumans are often the sole performers. Sound art does history in a way that dislodges humanity from the epicenter of meaning. It is nonhumans’ obscure call, their plea for acknowledgment and care; thus as a multisensory history, sound art is also a summons to an ecologically sensitive future.