DATE: Friday, June 4, 2010
TIME: 8:00 PM-9:30 PM
VENUE: The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College
MODERATOR: John Schaefer
PARTICIPANTS: Christopher Shera, Jacob Kirkegaard, Mark Whittle, Polygraph Lounge

We look around us—constantly. But how often do we listen around us? Sound is critically important to our bodies and brains, and to the wider natural world. In the womb, we hear before we see. Join John Schaefer, Jamshed Bharucha, Christopher Shera, the Danish sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard and multi-instrumentalists Polygraph Lounge for a fascinating journey through the nature of sound. How we perceive it, how it acts upon us and how it profoundly affects our well-being—including a demonstration of sounds produced by sources as varied as the human inner ear and the creation of the universe itself.

  • Share This:


John Schaefer
Radio Host

John Schaefer is the host of WNYC’s innovative music and talk show Soundcheck, which features live performances and interviews with a variety of guests. Since 1982, Schaefer has also hosted and produced WNYC’s radio series New Sounds, which Billboard magazine has called “the #1 radio show for the Global Village,” and since 1986 he has hosted the New Sounds Live concert series. He has written extensively about music, including the book New Sounds: A Listener’s Guide to New Music, the Cambridge Companion to Singing: World Music, and the TV program Bravo Profile: Bobby McFerrin. His liner notes appear on more than 100 recordings, ranging from the 1996 award-winning The Music of Armenia to recordings by Yo Yo Ma, Terry Riley, and many others.

Schaefer has curated the BAM World Music Festival and the new music and film series at the World Financial Center, chaired the Pulitzer Prize jury for Music, and hosted many lectures and panels for Lincoln Center, BAM, and Tanglewood’s Contemporary Music Festival, among others.


Physicist, Auditory Physiologist

Christopher Shera has done extensive research in solving fundamental problems in the mechanics and physiology of the peripheral auditory system. His work focuses on how the ear amplifies, analyzes, and emits sound, and his research combines physiological measurements with theoretical modeling of the peripheral auditory system. Professor Shera’s findings have shown that to aid the detection of quiet sounds, the inner ear acts as a biological, hydro-mechanical analogue of a laser amplifier. Just as a laser emits coherent light, most healthy ears spontaneously emit sound. A Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, he is an Associate Professor of Otology & Laryngology and Health Sciences & Technology at Harvard Medical School.


Danish sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard explores sound in art with a scientific approach. He focuses on the scientific and aesthetic aspects of resonance, time, sound and hearing. His installations, compositions, and performances deal with acoustic spaces and phenomena that usually remain imperceptible. Using unorthodox recording tools, including accelerometers, hydrophones, and home-built electromagnetic receivers, Kirkegaard captures and contextualizes previously unheard sounds from within a variety of environments: a geyser, a sand dune, a nuclear power plant, an empty room, a TV tower, and even sounds from the human inner ear itself.

For the last 15 years, Kirkegaard has presented his works at exhibitions, festivals and conferences throughout the world, including Club Transmediale in Berlin, James Cohan Gallery and Diapason in New York, Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles and Museum of Contemporary Art in Denmark. He has released five albums, predominately on the British label Touch, and is a member of the sound art collective freq_out.


Mark Whittle uses large optical and radio telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, to study processes occurring within 1,000 light years of the central supermassive black hole in Active Galaxies. His most recent interests focus on the way in which fast moving jets of gas, which are driven out of the active nucleus, subsequently crash into, accelerate, and generally “damage” the surrounding galactic material.

Dr. Whittle is a professor in the Astronomy Department at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. In 2004, following the success of the WMAP spacecraft mission, he developed for public outreach a detailed acoustic analysis of the sound present in the early universe, as seen in the cosmic microwave background. In 2007 he was invited to create and record a 36-lecture series on “Cosmology: The Nature and History of Our Universe” for the Teaching Company, which is currently one of their highest rated courses.

Singers, Comedians

Polygraph Lounge is the virtuosic duo of Mark Stewart and Rob Schwimmer, a multi-instrumentalist song and comedy team who specialize in musical mayhem. The New York Times has said “mad genius should always be this much fun.” The duo have performed and recorded with an eclectic array of musicians, from Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder to Wayne Shorter and Antonio Carlos Jobim to Steve Reich and Queen Latifah. Their arsenal includes a dijeridoo, a theremin, a melodica, a grand piano, a tin whistle, a length of pipe, an electric guitar, two singing voices, a pair of rapier-sharp wits, choreography for the entire audience and a battery of handmade, one-of-a-kind instruments.