ISACS17: John Kannenberg

Curating Sounds as Objects of Culture and Human Agency: A Case Study of The Museum of Portable Sound

Curating Sounds as Objects of Culture and Human Agency: A Case Study of The Museum of Portable Sound
28.09.2017 to 30.09.2017

Under the chairmanship of Morten Søndergaard and Peter Weibel the conference »ISACS17: Resonant Worlds – Curating Sound, Art & Science« takes place at the ZKM from 28–30 September, 2017. The conference addresses and debates the resonant worlds of sound, art, science and curation.

ISACS17 (re)investigates the  intersections of sound, art and science from the perspective of artistic / creative curation. The participants are asked to showcase, and reflect on, their own practices from the perspective of how and why choices are made in order to make things »work« – in the sense that it resonates in/with other people, contexts, culture, society, history, and »the world«. These are perhaps issues of (and effects from) embodied experiences, of language games, of existence.


In the introduction to the book Keywords in Sound (2015), authors David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny describe a tension existent within their editorial perspective for the book’s lexicon of keywords in sound studies. The authors suggest that the conflicts between their experiences in anthropology and musicology helped guide their approach to the subject of sound. Anthropology, they suggest, ‘reframes sound as an object of culture and human agency’ (5), which creates a tension with musicology’s lengthy history establishing ‘systems of sonic production and analysis.’ My own creative practice conceptualises sound in the anthropological sense described by Novak and Sakakeeny; this culturally-centred perspective inspired me to establish The Museum of Portable Sound (MOPS), an institution that attempts to exhibit sounds as museological objects by presenting visitors with digital audio file ‘objects’ organised into ‘galleries’, i.e. albums on a single mobile phone. After more than five hundred MOPS visits, this paper will present my preliminary findings from this experiment, focusing on sound’s potential as the basis for a new, museological sound object-based curatorial practice.


John Kannenberg is a multimedia artist, researcher, and writer currently writing his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Arts London. He serves as the Director and Chief Curator of London’s Museum of Portable Sound. More information about his work can be found at

Video Documentary:

ZKM | Videostudio

Camera: Benedict Meyer, Martina Rotzal
Editing: Frenz Jordt