The significance of individual sounds – their origins, their development and their future – has until now rarely been an object of research in popular music. This symposium will discuss how the sound aesthetic of popular music has changed over the past decades. It will debate how sounds have been created, how they are employed, and how they are constantly being renewed and replaced by new sounds. Last but not least, the symposium will discuss the future of sounds in pop music by addressing the following questions:

·       How are sounds modified, manipulated and transformed today, and how will this be done in the future?
·       What role do new interfaces and controllers play in the development of new sounds?
·       What do current sound generators offer?
·       What new sound generators might we expect in the future?
·       How will pop music sound, 10 or 20 years from now?

The following keynote speakers have been invited:

  • John Chowning (San Francisco)
  • Lippold Haken (Illinois)
  • Edmund Eagan (Ottawa)
  • Wayne Marshall (Boston)
  • Bruno Spoerri (Zurich)
  • Annie Goh (London)
  • Marie Thompson (Lincoln)
  • Katia Isakoff (London)


This symposium is part of the HKB research project “Cult sounds” of Immanuel Brockhaus and Thomas Burkhalter (Norient), which is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. For more information, see or


Further papers have been chosen from call for abstracts in the following subject fields:

1.    Technological aspects
The development of new synthesis procedures, editors, controllers and management software for auditory events seems to have reached a point at which the possible fields of application in music have been optimised and are both highly developed and user-friendly. Music technologies are future-oriented, but also process and transform past accomplishments. We wish to determine what virtual settings can offer, both within DAW systems and outside them. More and more developers and users are turning to physical systems (especially modular systems) that offer a great degree of openness and haptic characteristics. We aim to discuss this field of development.

2.    Socio-cultural aspects
Innovations in music technology and the renewal and expansion of sounds have often taken place in experimental settings or through unconventional approaches adopted by those involved. We can often observe that new sounds develop in subcultures and are later adopted by the mainstream. What is the approach of those who develop, use and consume these sounds? What networks exist and emerge around the idea of a new sound? Do small teams of developers determine what happens? In what environments do sonic innovations occur? And what are the impact and significance of specific sounds in different social and cultural contexts?

3.    Sound aesthetic aspects
Innovative sounds that are used excessively in the mainstream for aesthetic or commercial reasons can divide the production and listening communities. Current preferences such as auto-tune, filtering, sidechain compression, stutter effects and bandstop effects are omnipresent but are not necessarily new, nor even genuine pop sounds.
How are “new” sounds perceived and evaluated? How do individual sounds change the overall aesthetic of pop songs?





Immanuel Brockhaus and Thomas Burkhalter, HKB (lead)
Assistants: Sabine Jud and Daniel Allenbach

This symposium is part of the HKB research project “Cult sounds” of Immanuel Brockhaus and Thomas Burkhalter, which is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.




University Bern



The German-speaking branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music






Supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation