What Sound Studies Can Offer to Worldbuilding
By Nick James Scavo

Abstract for potential textbook chapter:

Sound presents unique challenges for any project dedicated to understanding Wordlbuilding, defined in this textbook as an attempt to “conceptualize an internally-consistent setting.” The temporality of sound has led us to develop a number of ways of substantiating sound as consistent within understood contexts for hearing: systemization and notation, recording, particular spatialization, or certain symbolic or social efficacy. Despite these attempts at consistency, style, aesthetic appreciation, and the technological production and social consumption of sound all incongruently condition our reception, aurality, and agency for listening. Paradoxically, this plurality of listening can very much alter the “internal consistencies” of any given sound, as the age-old Koan suggests: “can a sound exist without being heard”? Moreover, what does a sound become once it’s substantiated by multiple listeners?

The tension between the physics of sound and the plurality of listening is particularly difficult for the Worldbuilding project to approach. Worldbuilding requires sound to become amplified and “coded” in order to unify the plural discrepancies of listening. In this chapter, I’ll defend that Worldbuilding must address differences between listeners and moments of listening. In order for Worldbuilding to account for these differences, it has to understand them, I argue, as a kind of fiction that is distinct from the actual physics of a sonic signal. In other words, Worldbuilding in sound must become narrativized into a symbolic dimension that requires “exra-sonic” measures in order to “read” and interpret plural signals as a whole. Within this legible dimension, Worldbuilding must rely on hallucination, visualization, reference-making, scripting, critique, and, ultimately, discourse, as techniques that attempt to substantiate sound to adhere to “internally-consistent” conditions.