The Material Imagination Workshop, Stanford University

Mel Day, The Possibility of Sound, 2011, archival digital pigment print; photo credit; Jeffery Cross

An upcoming seminar series at Stanford University, called The Material Imagination: Sound, Space, and Consciousness, features a commissioned work by Mel Day (see above poster).  The Material Imagination is an ongoing workshop coordinated by faculty members Bissera V. Pentcheva (Department of Art & Art History) and Alexander Nemerov (Department of Art & Art History)

Select Fridays

4:00-6:00 PM

Stanford University
Cummings Art Building
Room 103
Map & Directions

October 11  |  Jonathan Berger
Imagined Sound, Virtual Space and Human Consciousness

November 22  |  Jesse Rodin
Experiencing Renaissance Polyphony

December 6  |  Niall Atkinson
The Acoustic Art of City-Building in Renaissance Italy

January 10  |  Alexander Nemerov
Acoustic Shadows: Macbeth and the Civil War

February 7  |  Justin Tackett
Sound, Cities, Technology in 19th-Century American Literature

March 14  |  Nicholas Jenkins
Unearthly Voices: Poetry’s Nonsound

April 4  |  Margot Fassler

Architecture and Music: Hildegard’s Allegorized Setting for the Ordo Virtutum

April 11  |  Charles Hirschkind
The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counter Publics

May 2  |  Thomas Blom Hansen
Concerning City Sounds and Senses


Bridging medieval and modern, the Material Imagination Workshop explores sound as an embodied experience.  Invited speakers as well as Stanford faculty and graduate students will present their research and center the discussion on short pre-circulated papers.  Sound assumes an immaterial quality that allows it to permeate bounded space.  It appears just as soon as it disappears, weaving through barriers in both unpredictable and controllable ways.  Through archeoacoustics sound of past civilizations can be reconstructed and provide an auditory aspect of these lost worlds as for instance Byzantine chant.  How can we productively bring studies on prosody in poetry to shed light on the “wet acoustics” of sacred space?  How could a study of urbanism encapsulate sound as an integral feature of the city?  How can humanists engage the physics of acoustics or neuroscience in order to explore the role of sound in activating memory and the imagination?  How does history, culture, and geography influence different ways of hearing from one community to the next?


Discussion will center on short pre-circulated papers posted on this website before the individual sessions.  These written statements will explore the connection between sound and the spaces and materials that modify it and inflect it with culturally specific meaning and experience.  Topics include medival chant and mystic experience in Hildegard von Bingen, architecture of Renaissance Italy, war reportage from Iraq, the soundscape of the Islamic city, Cairo, and South Asia.

Meetings are scheduled on select Fridays in Cummings Art Building, room 103.  Dinner will be served during each session.


Bissera V. Pentcheva
Department of Art & Art History

Alexander Nemerov
Department of Art & Art History


Division of International, Comparative and Area Studies

Art and Art History Department

Stanford Arts Institute


Jennifer Hsieh
Graduate Student Coordinator