About the Book

Read a Preview of Low End Theory

Bass, Bodies and the Materiality of Sonic Experience

Bloomsbury Academic
Hardcover: 25 February 2016
Paperback: 2017
ISBN 9781501309939
296 pages


Read a preview here.



“Low End Theory is an extremely broad-ranging book that refreshingly challenges the divisions between the humanities and sciences in terms of our understanding of sound, stretching this understanding from a wide-ranging interdisciplinary base. The core chapters represent a tour de force analysis of sound, body and experience that is both exhilarating and challenging. The reader will feel that they are racing through a stimulating sonic haze picking up wonderful nuggets of sonic knowledge on the way.” – Michael Bull, Professor of Sound Studies, University of Sussex, UK

“A pioneering study of the murky world of bass that enlists speculative concepts to reveal the vibrational practices at work in ritual, science and in the underbelly of pop. Low End Theory contributes to a growing literature which recognises, tracks and encourages the perpetual reconstruction the sonic body.” – Steve Goodman (UK), author of Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear / Founder of Hyperdub Records

“We live in a world of vibrations. Sound envelops us, moves us, caresses or assaults us-especially in the lower frequencies that we cannot hear directly. In Low End Theory, Paul Jasen provides us with an ontology of bass. He works through the many ways-natural, social, and technological-that subsonic frequencies haunt us, affect us, and change us.” – Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University, USA


Low End Theory probes the much-mythologized field of bass and low-frequency sound. It begins in music but quickly moves far beyond, following vibratory phenomena across time, disciplines and disparate cultural spheres (including hauntings, laboratories, organ workshops, burial mounds, sound art, studios, dancefloors, infrasonic anomalies, and a global mystery called The Hum). Low End Theory asks what it is about bass that has fascinated us for so long and made it such a busy site of bio-technological experimentation, driving developments in science, technology, the arts, and religious culture.

The guiding question is not so much what we make of bass, but what it makes of us: how does it undulate and unsettle; how does it incite; how does it draw bodily thought into new equations with itself and its surroundings? Low End Theory is the first book to survey this sonorous terrain and devise a conceptual language proper to it. With its focus on sound’s structuring agency and the multi-sensory aspects of sonic experience, it stands to make a transformative contribution to the study of music and sound, while pushing scholarship on affect, materiality, and the senses into fertile new territory. Through energetic and creative prose, Low End Theory works to put thought in touch with the vibratory encounter as no scholarly book has done before.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Elements of a Myth-Science

1. The Sonic Body: An Ethico-Acoustic Toolkit

Sonorous Relations
Tales and Strategies
Myth-Science in the Vibratory Milieu

2. Spectral Catalysis: Disquieting Encounters

Spectres of the Manmade Unknown
Boo! (toward an operative reality)
The Hum
‘And it was only by analogy that it could be called a sound at all…’
Blinkered Science
We still do not know what a sonic body can do…

3. Numinous Strategies

Learning to Play the Sonic Body
The Nervous Piano
Numinous Instruments
Religious Audiogenesis
Numinous Sound Design
Playing the Resonances
Tellurian Organs
The Organ-Church Assemblage
The Arcanum: An Ambulant Myth-Science
The Nervous Organ
Baroque Affect Engineering
The Gothic Assemblage: Applied Synaesthetics

4. Tone Scientists I: Vibratory Arts

Cymatic Arts
Documentary Practices
A Speculative Turn
Perceptual Abstraction
Transversal Strategies
Incipient Dance
Sonic Architectures
Dance With the Speaker
‘A people of oscillators’

5. Tone Scientists II: Bass Cults

The Lab
The Science
Bass Science
Dubplates and Mastering
Engineering the Vibratorium
Affects and Affectations
Entering the Rhythmachine
Three Physio-Logics
Jungle (1994)
Dubstep (2005)
Footwork (2009)

Conclusion: Where next?