The Knowledge in a Tone: A Metaphysics of Sound

I investigate one particular aspect of the entire aural spectrum: namely sound, as it is designated by the German term Klang. Here, sound is generally understood as the aspect of the aural spectrum that conveys the entire impression of that which is hearable. Sound is not identical with the musically or physically “objective” measures of an individual sound (e.g., volume; the overtones or undertones present in sound; timbre; or the rhythm of a sound sequence). What we understand to be “sound” is the entire impression brought together by all of these measures. In analytical philosophy, this kind of object or phenomenon is designated as a “secondary object.”

I designate a specific sound-image (Klangbild) (e.g., the sound-image that arises from speaking a language) as the expression of a specific cultural formation and, as such, as an expression of a certain knowledge, in line with the understanding of social anthropology, as well as some historians of science (Lorraine Daston). The development of national sound characteristics (Klangrichtungen) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and even more specifically, of nationally diverse schools of musical instrument construction, offer empirical evidence for the notion that different types of sound actually embody and express specific world views. Following recent trends in the history of science, I argue that these differences must be be taken seriously: we must listen to them and understand them as an expression of a certain culture of knowledge and worldview. It is this argument that I take on vis-à-vis the well-known example of the sound culture known as the "deutsche Klangschule."

A further part of this project is dedicated to the development of a philosophical framework that supports the claim that sound is a form of knowledge. My argument is based on a conception of action that leaves as much room for the inherent inclination of the actor as it does for the self-relation of the actor to “external” causes. This kind of theory of action has also been advanced by John McDowell (Pittsburgh) and Jennifer Hornsby (London). Because the creation of sounds (Klänge) – both in language as well as in (classical) music – is a kind of action, sound can be philosophically conceived of as a consequence, i.e. as a cultural product created through action, which both arises from inner inclination and responds to external causes. When, during this course of action, objects are made auditory – and this can be proven philosophically – this can be thought of as knowledge.