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Sep 9, 2016 at 10:00 am – Sep 11, 2016 at 5:00 pm

Sound Ethnographies: Theory and Practice for Non-Fiction Media

With Kevin Allen, Maile Colbert, Jen Heuson, Ernst Karel, Peter McMurray, Zach Poff and Benjamin Tausig

“For twenty-five centuries, Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible.” Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1985)

This workshop is a three-day immersion in critical sound making for documentarians, sound artists and scholars.

This three-day intensive will immerse participants in using sound to understand and document the world. Through critical listening exercises, practical demonstrations, guest presentations, readings and discussions, students will explore what sound is and what it does, learning to critically and ethically integrate sound recording and sound research into their artistic and scholarly practices. Over the course of the workshop, students will develop a range of sound recording techniques and will learn to craft stories, arguments and artworks from recorded sounds.

Sound scholar and filmmaker Jen Heuson will introduce the practical methods and theoretical debates of sound ethnography to nonfiction media makers, artists and scholars in this intensive. Participants will have the unique opportunity to develop skills and workshop current projects with guests working in a range of fields, including sound art, radio, music, film, anthropology and media studies.

Workshop topics will include: understanding sound basics; sound walking and mapping; field recording techniques; DIY microphone construction; sound editing; working with sound and image; developing stories and arguments with sound; engaging audiences in critical listening; noise and silence politics; soundscape study and sound heritage; and the ethics of sound recording. The workshop is designed to introduce participants to a range of approaches that include sound ethnography, acoustic ecology, archaeoacoustics, ethnomusicology, and aural heritage. Scholars and audiophiles of all types are encouraged to attend.

Sound scholar and filmmaker Jen Heuson will lead the seminar as main instructor.


Open to everyone. We are looking for filmmakers, radio producers, sound and media artists and scholars interested in working with sound.

Give us an idea of who you are and why you are coming. When you register you will be asked for a short statement of interest that should briefly describe your experience and a project (if you have a work in progress or an idea, it’s great. If you don’t, you might develop one during the workshop), plus a bio. There’s a spot for a link to a work sample too (something you’d like to share with the group and present to the speakers for feedback and critiques). A CV would also be nice, but is not required.

$350 early bird registration by November 14th, 2016 at 5PM.

$400 regular registration.

The deposit is non-refundable. Should you need to cancel, you’ll receive half of your registration fee back until November 14th. After November 14th, the fee is non-refundable.

In order to keep costs down, this workshop is b-y-o-m, bring your own laptop. Recording equipment is not required, but iPhones or other handheld recording equipment is welcomed. Students must be fully proficient using and operating their own computers or other equipment.

To register for a workshop, students must pay in full via PayPal. After the early bird registration deadline of November 14th, course fees are not refundable or transferable and any withdrawals or deadlines will result in the full cost of the class being forfeit. There will be no exceptions. To withdraw from a course please email info-at-uniondocs.org.

In the event that a workshop does not receive sufficient enrollment, it may be canceled. Students will be notified at least 48 hours prior to the start of a cancelled workshop and will be refunded within 5 business days. If we reschedule a workshop to another date, students are also entitled to a full refund. UnionDocs reserves the right to change instructors without prior notification, and to change class location and meeting times by up to an hour with 48 hours prior notice.

Please note: Participants are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.


Friday, Sep 9, – 10:00 - 5:00pm

Day 1 – An introduction to sound as ethnography

What is sound and how can it help us understand other peoples, places or things? The first day of the seminar will explore how we think about and document sound. Participants will be introduced to sound walking and mapping, field recording and how to craft artistic and scholarly works focused on recorded sound.

Morning: Kevin T. Allen

Afternoon: Ben Tausig

Saturday, Sep 10 - 10:00am - 5:00pm

Day 2 – Sound ethnographic methods

The second day of the intensive will delve deeper into the methods of sound study and documentation and will explore ethical questions related to sound recording. Participants will be introduced to sound study debates and will begin thinking about how to tell stories and share experiences through sound.

Morning: Jen Heuson and Maile Colbert (in conversation)

Afternoon: Peter McMurray

*Special Night Event: Ernst Karel

Sunday, Sep 11 – 10:00a - 5:00p

Day 3 – Sharing sound ethnographic work

The final day will emphasize audience engagement, exploring how to share sound ethnographic work in public contexts. Participants will be introduced to sound editing and installation and will learn additional sound recording and critical listening techniques.

Morning: Ernst Karel

Afternoon: Zach Poff

Each day follows this general structure, with some minor variations and substitutions:


Warm up, inspiring references


Presentation by guest speaker




Share / Discussion / Exercise


Lunch (on your own)


Presentation by guest speaker + individual work-in-progress critique




Workshop Exercise + Critique


Wrap Up



Kevin T. Allen is a filmmaker/sound-artist whose work straddles the territory between ethnographic and experimental practice. He has exhibited at numerous venues, including MoMA, Ethnographic Terminalia, Flaherty NYC, Margaret Mead Film Festival, Berlin Directors Lounge and Ann Arbor Film Festival. His sound work has been featured at museums and festivals, including the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Third Coast International Audio Festival and Deep Wireless Festival of Radio Art. He has made ethnographically imbued films in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, the Wild West, and the migrant farm worker community of Immokalee, Florida. Recent research has lead him to find culture not exclusively in human forms, but also inherent in physical landscapes and material objects. His work is funded through the Jerome Foundation. He is an assistant professor at The New School where teaches documentary practice and experimental filmmaking. http://www.smallgauge.org/


Maile Colbert  is  an  intermedia  artist  with a  concentration  on sound and video. She is currently a PhD Research Fellow in Artistic Studies with a concentration on sound studies, sound design in time-based media, and soundscape ecology at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, through the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, and a visiting lecturer at the Faculdade de Belas Artes da Universidade do Porto. She spent the last five years collaborating with the art organization Binaural, and is director of Cross the Pond, an organization based on arts and cultural exchange between the U.S. and Portugal, and is an ongoing contributor of articles on Acoustic Ecology and Sound Studies at  “Sounding Out”, the award winning sound studies journal. http://www.mailecolbert.com/


Jen Heuson is a scholar and filmmaker whose work critically engages the mediated experience of culture and identity during travel. Her award-winning films have screened internationally at venues as diverse as FLEX Fest, Big Muddy, Black Maria and the Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival. She has also produced sound ethnographies of the Peruvian Amazon, New York City and South Dakota’s Black Hills and has written articles for Contemporary Music Review, Sensate and Ethnoscripts. Jen earned her PhD with distinction from the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University in 2015. Her dissertation, funded by the Wenner-Gren and Reed Foundations, explores the role of sound in producing national sensory heritage in the Black Hills. Jen is currently working on a film and community-engagement project about aural sovereignty and a science-fiction novel exploring stone tape theory in South Dakota. She teaches media ethics and film at The New School and critical media analysis at New York University.  http://www.smallgauge.org/


Ernst Karel makes electroacoustic music and experimental nonfiction sound works for multichannel installation and performance. His recent projects are edited/composed using unprocessed location recordings; in performance he sometimes combines these with analog electronics to create pieces which move between the abstract and the documentary. Recent sound projections have been presented at Oboro, Montreal; EMPAC, Troy NY; Arsenal, Berlin; and the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Sound installations in collaboration with Helen Mirra have been exhibited at Culturgest, Lisbon; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Audiorama, Stockholm; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge; and in the 2012 Sao Paulo Bienal. Video with multichannel sound collaborations include Ah humanity! (2015, with Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel) and Single Stream (2014, with Toby Lee and Pawel Wojtasik). Other projects include the long-running electroacoustic duo EKG, and the location recording/performance collective the New England Phonographers Union. Recent nonfiction vilms on which he has done sound work include The Iron Ministry, Manakamana, and Leviathan, all produced in the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University, where as a Lecturer on Anthropology, he teaches a class in sonic ethnography. http://ek.klingt.org/


Peter McMurray is an ethnomusicologist, filmmaker and composer interested in the interface of sound and culture. As a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, he is currently working on a book/media project on the sonic life of Islam in Turkish diasporic communities in Berlin. He has a longstanding interest in sound archives and the history of acoustics research. Other stray pursuits include improvised music, soundmapping, phonography, and collecting cheap toys that make sounds. http://scholar.harvard.edu/mcmurray


Zach Poff is a New York area digital media artist, educator, and maker-of-things. Through his artwork, teaching, and software he examines the tremendous opportunities and challenges that arise from the translation of our experiences into “information”. His recent work has been focused on how traditional broadcasting reverberates into digital media and influences notions of an emerging post-broadcast discourse. He currently teaches Sound Art at Cooper Union School of Art in NYC. He has taught media theory, video art, and digital photography at Bennington College and Cooper Union Continuing Education. http://www.zachpoff.com/


Benjamin Tausig’s research focuses on music, sound, and political protest in Bangkok, Thailand. With a particular emphasis on urban space, Tausig has given attention to the ways that genre and performance are adapted in contexts of political upheaval. He has published on the musical activity of the Thai military’s psychological operations unit, and on the lives and art of protest musicians, among other topics. Tausig’s interdisciplinary interests combine ethnomusicology, sound studies, and human geography. His dissertation, “Bangkok Is Ringing,” is a critical study of the music and broadcast environment of Thailand’s Red Shirt movement in 2010-11, during which time he conducted fieldwork in Bangkok and elsewhere. The dissertation tracks the fragmentation of the Red Shirt movement through its musical and sonic spatial ordering. Tausig’s work has appeared in the journals Culture, Theory, & Critique (in a special issue devoted to music and neoliberalism), Twentieth-Century Music, and Positions: Asia Critique. He has taught classes on urban soundscapes, the art of listening, and the elements of music at both the New School and NYU, where he received his Ph.D.  http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/music/aboutus/faculty/Tausig_Benjamin.html


Sep 9, 2016 at 10:00 am
Sep 11, 2016 at 5:00 pm


352 Onderdonk Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385 United States

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