The Environmentalization of space and listening

An archaeology of noise-cancelling headphones and Spotify’s concentration playlists


  • Valentin Ris



This paper aims to analyze the relationship between listening techniques and technologies and forms of subjectivation in our current auditory culture compared to mid-20th century practices. Applying a media archaeological approach in order to unearth underlying histories of knowledge of the discussed technologies and practices offers a way of understanding how subjectivations and the constitution of environments in the context of large power regimes are intertwined. Against the theoretical backdrop of Gilles Deleuze’s text on “societies of control” and Erich Hörl’s notion of “Environmentalization”, the paper outlines conceptualizations of environments in different forms of sonic control that are inherent in practices and technologies of noise-cancelling headphones and specifi c Spotify playlists. The listening spaces that emerge in the analyzed practices/technologies reveal continuities as well as discontinuities when compared to their historical predecessors. Both the current phenomena are characterized by a process of advancing cybernetization and thus the formation of controllable environments. The depicted transformation corresponds to Deleuze’s observation of a new paradigm of power which he characterized as a shift from “molding” to “modulation”, i.e. a shift from a form-imposing to a self-regulating mode of power. Spotify’s concentration playlists and noisecancelling headphones both operate based on the principle of modulation and represent modes of environmental technologies. In the consideration of the subject-environment relationship on the other hand, current forms of subjectivation become apparent in cybernetic visions of control and environmental power. It is thus shown that listening spaces offer an approach to analyzing power and subjectivation.

Author Biography

Valentin Ris

Master of Arts from the University of Cologne

Independent researcher


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How to Cite

Ris, V. (2021). The Environmentalization of space and listening: An archaeology of noise-cancelling headphones and Spotify’s concentration playlists. SoundEffects - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Sound and Sound Experience, 10(1), 158–172.