Nuclear Soundscapes: Exploring Sound in Radioactive Environments

Maria Pantsidou, Jade J. Li


Just after World War II, mounting evidence marked the dawn of the geological epoch dubbed the Anthropocene. Nuclear explosions deposited radioactive debris in the geological strata, combined with an acceleration in resource extraction, population growth and energy consumption. In this light, this paper aims to explore the affective dimensions of the multiplicities of sounds that are interconnected to nuclear materialities. We argue that mediations of nuclear sounds in these forms of audio instances render nuclear sounds comprehensible and challenge existing representations of nuclear power. This paper will bring into conversation an archive of soundscapes of the nuclear epoch – for example the sound of beeping in a nuclear power plant that produces electricity, the Geiger-Müller counters that civilians used following the Fukushima-Daichii plant explosion, and the music composition by JLiat of the sonic representation of atomic testing on Bikini Atoll in 1946. 

Engaging with these sounds serves to make sense of the nuclear sublime and offer a possibility of connecting with the “otherness” of nuclear materials. These sonic instances also bind people in collective ecological experiences, whilst making us more attuned to voicing the modalities of a damaged planet. Sound can serve as an articulation of affects that emerge between human and non-human materialities in a damaged planet. These conceptualizations of sound are used to articulate the ways individuals or groups embody their relationships to ecological environments. Through an interdisciplinary lens, the paper aims to explore the mechanics of sound in nuclear infrastructures and devices to challenge common metaphors about nuclear energy. Through the analysis of these soundscapes, we demonstrate that exposing these entanglements between human and nuclear materialities can help us make sense of the sociocultural dimensions of living in a radioactive planet.


How to cite this article: Pantsidou, Maria and Jade J. Li. "Nuclear Soundscapes: Exploring Sound in Radioactive Environments." AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 25 (September 2021): 1-12. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i25.458

Article received: April 15, 2021; Article accepted: June 21, 2021; Published online: September 15, 2021; Original scholarly paper


affect theory; nuclear soundscapes; sonic representations; ecological degradation; radioactive terrains; nuclear music projects.

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