David Friedrich

University of Western Australia (Conservatorium of Music); david.friedrich@research.uwa.edu.au


The human sensory apparatus has changed with implanted media technologies. One of these technologies is the hearing device cochlear implant (CI). It enables users to perceive an environment of signals beyond acoustics; an audible perception of electromagnetic fields that have only occurred in non-human organisms and machines. Nonetheless, most discourses about the CI focus either on implantation, and post-operative treatment, or criticise the media-political power of the wearable speech processor (WSP) on the outside of the head, i.e., asking who determines the quality of hearing. Whereas culture defines the quality of hearing, it is overlooked that sound waves determine the sense of hearing. However, this stands in contrast to the actual sensation via the implanted part of the CI: The implanted neurotechnology bypasses the mechanical parts of the ear via an ensemble of radio and computer technology to stimulate the nerve fibres in the cochlea directly. Through a transcutaneous radio link without physical connection, the implanted part receives energy for powering the implant and spatio-temporal information for orchestrating the stimulation in the cochlea via electrodes from an external wearable speech processor. Based on a techno-philosophical investigation, the relationship between techno-biological sensation and sound perception will be explored by opening the black-box of the implanted receiver and stimulator, which are actually responsible for hearing. The exploration of this human-machine symbiosis is used as a case study to rethink the sense of hearing, which is no longer determined by mechanical sound waves because the implanted receiver only receives electromagnetic signals—no matter whether the signal comes from the WSP, an MRI, or from a mobile phone. While there are studies on the perception of sound and the mechanisms of hearing, there is a lack of examination focusing on the relationship between our understanding of sound and the sense of hearing provoked by an altered sensory apparatus, such as in the human-machine symbiosis mentioned. At the NOVA Contemporary Music Meeting, David will address how CI users perceive sound via their implanted radio and computer technology. The aim of the presentation is to discuss whether the sense of hearing is based on the perception of sound waves and how problematic this entangled relationship is regarding the definition of hearing. Based on a cross-disciplinary approach, David would like to discuss why the sensation of hearing via CI affects not only the perception of sound but also how our understanding of sound recursively affects sensation.

Keywords: cochlear implant; sense of hearing; auditory perception.


David Friedrich is a PhD student at the University of Western Australia (Conservatorium of Music). His research is primarily focused on the investigation of (auditory) media technologies and is driven by an interdisciplinary approach between art, science, and philosophy. During his undergraduate studies (2018) in musicology and media studies at the Humboldt University Berlin, he developed the Theremin for the Deaf, probably the first musical instrument that generates sound without acoustics. In his master’s thesis (2021), The Duality of Sound, at the department for media theory at the Humboldt University Berlin, he challenged our understanding of sound. Whereas the Duality of Sound investigated the influence of an external media technology on the human being and vice versa, his PhD thesis, Phenomenology of Bionic Sensation, will go a step further by exploring the relationship between the sensation of sound via the implanted media technology CI and the human perception techno-philosophically.