CFP (Edited Volume): Beyond the Human Voice: Dystopian Soundscapes in the Arts

Martin Ullrich's picture

Modern utopias are fictional realizations of an optimistic belief in progress. However, in the cultural history of the 20th and 21st century, dystopias shadow this belief like a doppelgänger. Pandemics, ecological catastrophes reaching to the total destruction of the planetary biosphere, authoritarian states using dictatorial surveillance and torture, self-optimization of societies including artificial reproduction, genetic engineering, and misguided artificial intelligence: literature and film have provided a multiplicity of dystopian world building. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Albert Camus’s The Plague (1947), George Orwell’s 1984 (1948), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966), and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) are prominent examples of fictional dystopias.

Nevertheless, there is not yet much systematic research on how these dystopian worlds sound like. In Orwell’s London of 1984, sounds are somber, without song and human voice. Nevertheless suddenly, outside the city, there is the overwhelming song of a thrush, “minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself […] into nothingness”. Similarly, writer Marion Poschmann in her 2020 Hölty Prize speech describes the song of a nightingale at an overgrown cemetery in Berlin during the corona pandemic. In both cases, the dystopian sound (or its absence) relates to the recently growing importance of nonhuman voices in the context of post-anthropocentric approaches like Human-Animal Studies and Multispecies Ethnography.

The corona crisis has silenced human music in a hitherto unknown way, and the arts, for centuries having represented the vox humana, seemed to have lost their voices. At the same time, a new attentiveness for animal sounds has emerged. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung titled ‘Concert halls remain empty, but the birds sing’ (article by Cosima Lutz, 23 May 2021). In the last years, sound art and contemporary music have been involved with animal sound production and with the sound signatures of the Anthropocene. David Rothenberg’s performative research on interspecies music with nightingales (2019/20), Carola Bauckholt’s birdsong composition Zugvögel (2011/12), and Peter Cusack’s sound art project Sounds from Dangerous Places (2011) exemplify this tendency.

The silencing of the human voice and its substitution by animal voices is a leitmotif of this edited volume. Central themes are:

  • the audible dimension of the dystopic, which has been neglected in favor of the visual, including literary soundscapes and musical compositions,
  • the suspension of sound and the installation of silence in fictional dystopian worlds,
  • the voices of nonhuman animals in dystopian contexts.
  • Submissions could also deal with
  • audible aspects of dystopias, apocalypses and post-apocalypses, the Anthropocene, and world endings,
  • zoopoetical figures of ending and parting like swan song and siren song,
  • transcendence and existential finitude in human and more-than-human song.

The editors, Susanne Rode-Breymann and Martin Ullrich, look for analytic, discursive, or speculative approaches. The edited volume will bring together German and English texts and gives room for essayistic as well as for philological submissions. It is open for the diversity of disciplinary perspectives, for different academic contexts and for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary methods.

Please send abstracts (max. 300 words) until 30 November 2021 to and Upon acceptance, full versions will have to be submitted until 15 September 2022. The publication of the volume is scheduled for the summer of 2023.