PhD & Ambisonics research project

PhD: Communicating Vessels: Re-defining Agency through Sounding, at University of Copenhagen & The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Artsfunded by Novo Nordisk Mads Øvlisen PhD Scholarship with extraordinary potential in Practice-based Art, 2020 – 2023.

Abstract: Heard and unheard sounds are a vehicle for communication that establishes a web of interdependencies within our environment offering a potential re-framing of notions of agency. Communicating Vessels: Re-defining Agency Through Sounding proposes Sounding as a practice and medium for apprehending new forms of agency, ones that will be explored in an experiment within conventional narrative film form.

This research focuses on the apprehension of sound through a spectrum of interdependent senses and actors, phenomena that will be researched through a theoretical framework, field research into non-Western perspectives on sound and subjectivity, and collaborative exchanges and interviews with sound artists and scholars. Drawing from disparate fields of study, the research expands upon the corporeal anthropology of sound, existing concepts of sonic agency, and practices that draw from, among other things, Deep Listening developed by composer Pauline Oliveros.

Further: This PhD project contains theoretical and practice-based research in which I explore agency from different perspectives using a concept I am calling Sounding. Sounding proposes a porosity in distinctions between listening and producing sound, re-framing sonic relationships and revealing potential and existing interacting agencies.
I pursue collaborative, experimental approaches to research with theorists, researchers and artists from different fields. By forming several research groups (Radical Listening Group, and the Sonic Orientations Ambisonics Research Group) I like to emphasise the interdependencies in artistic practice and cultural work.

The research will occur through an annual series of Radical Listening workshops where sound perspectives and practices are exchanged, sounded out, and performed by sound artists and scholars from different parts of the world. Drawing from a range of fields in which sound, perception and subjectivity is addressed, such as anthropology, neuroscience, feminist theory, indigenous perspectives, and Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening practice, I propose to re-define agency in relation to Sound practices.

Research Questions: How can Sounding (the apprehension of sound through a spectrum of interdependent senses and actors) be used to elicit new relationships and broaden the definitions of agency; What new subjectivities and narrative trajectories can come from the practice of Sounding and; How can new forms of agency be activated through a sound-film?

Sonic Orientations, research into Ambisonics and subjectivity funded by The Danish Ministry of Culture’s KUV Artistic research grant

My PhD is, in part, activated through specific research into spatial sound, perception and subjectivity within an Ambisonics (3D immersive sound)chamber built by a team of artists at the Royal Danish Academy for Fine Art. Building the chamber ourselves allows for a deep understanding of this technology and how it can be used artistically.

The Sonic Orientations project deals with Ambisonics and its implications for the listening subject in sound, VR and other Media Art formats. By exploring this immersive sound technology and associated practices from a theoretical perspective, the aim is sound out new perspectives on subjectivity, agency and narrative. The project activity includes Sonic Orientations Ambisonics Research (SOAR) group activity, teaching, public talks and exhibitions that support international dialogue and establish the space as a site for research on immersive sound in Media Art.

Sonic Orientations Ambisonics Research Group (SOAR)

Jenny Gräf Sheppard (PhD student, University of Copenhagen/Kunstakademiet)

Stephen McEvoy (Musician, Artist, Instructor at Laboratory for Sound at Kunstakademiet)

Lars Kynde (Musician, Composer, Instrument inventor, Faculty of Senses)

Toshie Takeuchi (Artist, Faculty of Senses)

Victoria Keddie (Artist, Producer)

Theoristical input

Jane Bennett (Political Theorist and Philosopher, Johns Hopkins Univerity)


Mads (Notam, Oslo)

Garth Payne (Arizona State University)

Oskar Koliander (Artist, 3D Laboratory at Kunstakademiet)

Daniel Hugo (Artist, Metal and Construction Laboratory at Kunstakademiet)

For more documentation and information visit:

`Project Description in detail:

Sonic Orientations deals with Ambisonics and its implications for the listening subject in sound, VR and other Media Art formats. By exploring this immersive sound technology and associated practice from a theoretical perspective the aim is to connect ideas of New (feminist) Materialisms with experiential   potential of spatialized sound, offering new perspectives on subjectivity, agency and narrative. The project activity includes a research group, teaching, public talks and an exhibition that support international dialogue and site for research on immersive sound in Media Art.   By establishing a small research group from within and outside of the Academy who will engage in workshops, experimentation and knowledge dissemination, the Academy will establish itself as a center for research into the area of immersive sound for applications in immersive and VR art, sound art, film and performance. The aim is to fill gap in knowledge within the Academy and Denmark on 3D sound within Media Art, as well as to attract researchers from near and afar to collaborate and consider the artistic and theoretical implications of this relatively new technology.   During the first year, the Sound Lab will develop an Ambisonics studio which also serves as an immersive space in which to experience 3D sound. Staff, faculty and students will develop a knowledge base through practice and theoretical research, courses and visiting artists and scholars who will consider the ways in which the technology and the experiential aspect of it opens up a sonic aspect to New Materialisms and to immersive sound media.  

You and I are close, we intertwine; you may stand on the other side of the hill once in awhile, but you may also be me while remaining what you are and what I am not.
-Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing       Postcoloniality and Feminism, Indiana Univ. Press, 1989, p. 90.  

Much of our understanding of being in the world has been formulated through a separation of Self / Other, Subject / Object, a dualism that has been fortified by Western Cartesian thought and the predominance of visual culture. Even within Art theory, in New (feminist) Materialisms that address a complexity of relations, “intra-acting agencies” and interchanging subjectivities, case studies and practice-based research has been predominantly in the visual and object-based domain. Discourse on the above and other New Materialist concepts occurs through examples in visual culture with reference to “reading”, “things” and “objects”. For example, the seed of Karen Barad’s New Materialism is Niels Bohr’s double-slit experiment in which matter can be understood as both wave and particle by looking at interference patterns. Jane Bennett in her book Vibrant Matter reflects on the power and agency of “things” when writing of entanglement that leads certain people to hoard objects. In the proposed 2-year project Sonic Orientations, the aim is to add to the international dialogue in the field of New Materialism, with artistic research that takes the above concepts on through a deep engagement with immersive sound, as technology and set of practices.   Sonic Orientations uses a theoretical and practice-based framework for exploring 3D immersive sound technology and practice as a means by which to contemplate subjectivity, difference and intra-acting agencies, concepts developed by New (feminist) Materialisms by theorists Karen Barad, Jane Bennett, Donna Haraway and put into practice by the artist Trinh T. Min-ha. Through an expansion of the existing Sound Lab facilities at the Academy, we will establish a site for regional and international research on the role immersive sound has to play in creating new narrative forms in Media Art through a re-thinking of subjectivity. An Ambisonics (3D Sound) Laboratory the sonic counterpart to Virtual Reality), that will support the investigation into the following questions that direct attention to both the technology and artistic possibilities of Ambisonics:   How can the immersive sound technologies intrinsic to Ambisonics add to an understanding of intra-action, of shifting subjectivity?   What are some of the methods and techniques that can be used within Ambisonic immersive sound to experiment with shifting subjectivity, orientations and new narrative forms?   What new experiences and dynamics between art and audience and between members of audience can occur within immersive sound and the interactive potential of Ambisonics?   Ambisonics is not entirely new. Though developed in the 1970’s, it has only recently been made accessible and affordable. The software is open-source, and the learning curve is not as steep as it was previously due to developments by the IEM team in Graz, Austria, who continue to develop it and lead an open forum for research in Ambisonics ( Grasping Ambisonics, however is not easy, as it evades our conventional notions of space, physics and directionality.   It has the potential to upend subject object relations, offering a completely new way of entering into time-based narrative in Media. The technology and physics that are behind Ambisonics subverts conventional notions of a sound source, in that the multiple speakers involved interact in ways, and in that interaction, the illusion of spatial sound is created. Therefore it is a dynamic between sound fields that produces a sense of sound, directionality, of sounds of space. For this reason, the study of Ambisonics is a ripe area for exploring themes of New Materialist intra-action and entangled agencies.
August, 2021. Building the metal frame for Ambisonics speaker arrangement.
Ursula, “in”-fitted with 16 speakers + human