Skip to main content

Sonic Flux

Sound, Art, and Metaphysics

Sonic Flux

Sound, Art, and Metaphysics

From Edison’s invention of the phonograph through contemporary field recording and sound installation, artists have become attracted to those domains against which music has always defined itself: noise, silence, and environmental sound. Christoph Cox argues that these developments in the sonic arts are not only aesthetically but also philosophically significant, revealing sound to be a continuous material flow to which human expressions contribute but which precedes and exceeds those expressions. Cox shows how, over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, philosophers and sonic artists have explored this “sonic flux.”

Through the philosophical analysis of works by John Cage, Maryanne Amacher, Max Neuhaus, Christian Marclay, and many others, Sonic Flux contributes to the development of a materialist metaphysics and poses a challenge to the prevailing positions in cultural theory, proposing a realist and materialist aesthetics able to account not only for sonic art but for artistic production in general.

272 pages | 41 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Art: Art Criticism

Media Studies

Music: General Music

Philosophy: General Philosophy


"A rich, wideranging discussion, knowledgeable and insightful, that achieves the rare feat of connecting, and balancing, philosophy and artistic practice."

The Wire

"I foresee that the book will become a staple in sound studies . . . . The book’s strength is that it offers the first philosophical genealogy (to my knowledge) that establishes the sonic flux theory as an ontology for understanding the emergence of sound art in the second half of the twentieth century."

Journal of Sonic Studies

"In this book, Cox (also co-editor of the Audio Culture anthology) constructs and formalises the concept of 'sonic flux,' conceived in an early form by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Deleuze, and furthered by Manuel DeLanda’s 'A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History.'" 


"Christoph Cox in Sonic Flux investigates the most materialistic and prosaic music: the underrated background music. . . . Following the school of Schaeffer, Russolo, Varese, and Cage, Cox stands up for urban soundscapes and their range of attractions, blurs, chains, dilations and fades."

Sonograma Magazine

Sonic Flux is a book that may well revolutionize both philosophy and audio culture. Just as the words we speak are ‘sampled’ from the reservoir of language, Cox argues that sounds are extracted from an intensive material continuum—the ‘sonic flux’—which he explores through a rich array of concepts such as synesthesia, acoustic space, room tone, noise, signal, and time. In doing so, Cox appeals to a wide array of sonic artists—from pioneers such as Cage and Schaffer to a host of more recent figures—whom he treats as philosophers, as thinkers who happen to think in sound rather than concepts. Sonic Flux may finally compel philosophers to take the aural as seriously as the visual. An essential work.

Daniel W. Smith, Purdue University

Whether you like your materialism old or new, this is the manual for thinking about sound in its material flux. And if you don’t like your materialism at all, this book is all the more important, because no one is more comprehensive or more persuasive than Cox. A test and a testament—as close to a must-read as the study of sound is likely to produce.

Seth Kim-Cohen, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Sonic Flux makes a passionate and finely detailed case for a materialist view of sound and gives sound art its own place in the historical arc of music. Christoph Cox ties together Nietzsche's conception of the Dionysian and Attali's theories of territorialization to outline something like a Tao of sound—a ‘field of fluxes’ that exists before and outside humanist models of signification and narrative. Sonic Flux returns sound to itself, and frees the act of listening from any need to replicate the tendencies of reading or looking.

Sasha Frere-Jones

"Sonic Flux has solidified Cox’s role as the definitive voice in the field of sound art. Sonic Flux presents us with sound art’s long overdue conceptualization within contemporary discourse. In this text we encounter sound studies like never before, that is, as a site of courageous creative artistic research founded upon rigorous material experimentation and theoretical exploration. Cox’s background in philosophy, critical theory, and art history are clearly evident in this book and are greatly appreciated."

Journal of Visual Culture

Table of Contents



Part I: The Sonic Flux and Sonic Materialism

Chapter 1: Toward a Sonic Materialism
Signification, Discourse, and Materialism
Representation and the Sonic Arts
Schopenhauer: Below Representation
Nietzsche: The Naturalization of Art
Dionysus, or the Intensive
Sound as an Immemorial Flux
Sonic Events and Sound Effects
A Materialist Aesthetics

Chapter 2: A Brief History of the Sonic Flux
Noise, Deterritorialization, and Self-Organization
Systems of Sonic Capture
Interlude—Christian Marclay: Repetition and Difference
Digitality, Decommodification, and Deterritorialization

Chapter 3: The Symbolic and the Real: Phonography from Music to Sound
Hearing Things
Alvin Lucier: From Signification to Noise

Part II: Being and Time in the Sonic Arts

Chapter 4: Signal to Noise: An Ontology of Sound Art
Leibniz and the Auditory Unconscious
Sound Art and the Sonic Flux
Room Tone
Sound, Symbol, Sample
Music and Sound Art

Chapter 5: Sound, Time, and Duration
Beyond the Musical Object: From Being to Becoming, Time to Duration
Installing Duration: Postminimalism in the Visual Arts
Time’s Square
Time Pieces
Against Becoming and Duration? The Sound of Hyper-Chaos

Part III: The Optical and the Sonic

Chapter 6: Audio/Visual: Against Synaesthetics
From Gesamtkunstwerk to Synaesthesia
Synaesthetics 2.0
Sound Figures
Dubs and Versions
Sound Cinema: Film and Video as Sonic Art
A Transcendental Exercise of the Faculties


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press