Exploring Austerity in Sound
: Applying an Ethnographic Approach to a Collaborative, Field Recording-based Composition


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This document provides an exegesis of an ethnographic soundscape composition engagement that culminated with the creation of a work entitled About Us – For Us (2021). This creative artefact is a large-scale work that is presented as a binaural composition for headphone playback. It can also be adapted for multi-channel, site-generic presentation. The work builds upon practice that was developed during the creation of two preliminary works entitled What Does Who to What? (2018) and Cartographies (2019). Despite the existence of innovative works and important development in terms of theorisation, the use of field recording-based composition as an ethnographic practice is still underdeveloped. Voices from within the discipline have called for use of composition as an alternative to a traditional ethnographic write-up and identified the need for rigorous academic documentation to accompany any such undertaking. This study provides precisely this. It is also an explicitly political interaction, aimed at the exploration of power and domination in an area impacted by austerity measures. This exploration is organised according to a methodology that interprets the four stages involved in ethnographic studies sonically. These four stages are: observing and participating in a local area; conducting interviews with local community members; utilising archives; and producing a sonic write-up. As a study that engages with notions of power, careful consideration of researcher-participant collaboration and power relations was deemed necessary. These considerations led to the adoption of a hermeneutic approach to the engagement. Methods such as the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of interviews and the development of an instrument for the playback of participant statements according to rules derived from interview themes, carried this concern for power relations into the composition itself. The resulting work contributes a sonic write-up to the discipline and the exegesis gives a detailed overview of process. A discussion of contributions to specific aspects of the current literature is afforded by this overview. The benefits of a deep engagement in the locality are argued for, as well as the need for reflexive care at every stage of the process. The impact of the process upon the participants is also examined, and changes to the sonic awareness of one participant is discussed. Although details of the process for implementing the research strategy are singular and contingent, this text is felt to provide an opportunity for the community of practice to scrutinise, adopt, reject or build upon its findings.
Date of Award10 Feb 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorHELEN NEWALL (Director of Studies)


  • soundscape composition
  • Ethnography
  • field recording
  • austerity
  • collaboration
  • community art intervention

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