A screening room for programming about media arts, activism, and mediated experience


Tod Machover and Naomi Waltham-Smith

A workshop exploring the techniques, strategies, and politics of urban field recording

Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Performance

Organizing Institutions


Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce Listening for Democracy, a workshop exploring the methods and politics of field recording. It will feature composer Tod Machover, sound-studies scholar Naomi Waltham-Smith, and Penn graduate students Roksana Filipowska and Maria Murphy, and will take place on Friday, November 17, 2017 from 10am-12pm in the Mediatheque at Slought. The program is part of Machover's Philadelphia Voices project, in which residents of Philadelphia are being asked to submit field recordings of the city's soundscape, including the voices they hear in their neighborhoods, using a purpose-built app. Commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the project will premier in April 2018.

Urban environmental sound is composed through the social relations of city life. How do the shortcomings of liberal democracy become audible in soundscapes? How can listening to our cities aid in the struggle against such conditions? The workshop will address these questions by bringing together Machover's effort in mobilizing community engagement and Waltham-Smith's interest in how urban field recording reveals unequal distributions of precarity and insecurity in our cities. It will focus on discerning, via the ear, the ideals and effects of democracy.

Together with Penn graduate students who have undertaken innovative work with field recording, Machover and Waltham-Smith will introduce students to the techniques, strategies, and politics of urban field recording. The workshop will examine the status of recordings as representation, document, and creative intervention, investigating the extent to which field recording is a democratic process. Participants will make field recordings at different locations around the city in order to explore what soundscapes reveal about the nature of institutions, communities, and social practices in Philadelphia.

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Tod Machover is a composer, inventor and educator. He is Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media at the MIT Media Lab, where he also directs the Opera of the Future Group. His work has been awarded numerous prizes and honors, including being named 2016 Composer of the Year by Musical America. Machover is also recognized for designing new technologies for music, such as Hyperinstruments, and for his visionary operas like the "robotic" Death and the Powers. Machover is currently working on his next opera, Schoenberg in Hollywood.

Naomi Waltham-Smith is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research sits at the intersection of music theory, sound studies, and recent European philosophy, especially deconstruction, Italian biopolitics, and post-Althusserian Marxisms. She is the author of Music and Belonging Between Revolution and Restoration (2017) and The Sound of Biopolitics (forthcoming). She is currently working on a sonic archival project on "Listening under Global Trumpism."

Philadelphia Voices is created by composer Tod Machover and his team at the MIT Media Lab. The goal of each project is to create a sonic portrait of a place by combining "musical" and "found" sounds, and by inviting the entire community to collaborate on every aspect of the work.

The Philadelphia project has a special focus on the individual and collective power of the voice, and will thematically investigate the current and possible future state(s) of democracy.

Philadelphia Voices was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, and will be premiered by them - accompanied by hundreds of singers from throughout Philadelphia - in April 2018.