Is sound a secondary object?

“Is sound a secondary object?” is an ongoing project investigating the relationship between sound, music, and the physical objects that cause them.

In The Aesthetics of Music, Roger Scruton claims that sounds are secondary objects, that is, objects in their own right, with their own unique properties, not reducible to the material stuff that causes them.1 What does this mean for our cognition of sound? Synthetically produced electronic sounds that have no clear perceptible provenance would seem to provide the strongest examples in Scruton’s favor. But do they? Even if we cede that we grasp electronic sounds without grasping their actual sources, we often make sense of them in terms of the physical stuff in the world. And if that is the case, how separate can sound be from the material stuff that causes them? These short clips pair electronic sounds with moving images, exploring instances in which synthesized sounds connect with the physical world and instances in which they pull away.

1. Roger, Scruton. “Sound.” In The Aesthetics of Music, 1-18. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.