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« Announcing the Cartesian Cut? Artists | Main | Absent Bodies »

"Beautiful murmurs"

Author: Eloise Govier.

Sound ethnographer Tom Rice (University of Exeter) spent a year as an Honorary Observer at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. The anthropologist has written extensively about the sounds he found in the hospital ward, and how these soundscapes impacted upon those inhabiting the space.   

The hospital, the body, the sounds... 

Some of the sounds that he talks about are the "beautiful murmurs" heard at the end of a stethoscope. 

Rice explains: "Normally, when blood flows across the valves as the heart pumps it does so smoothly, meaning that the only sounds that can be heard are the two closing snaps of the valves which create the heart beat. Damage to the valves, or valve dysfunction, however, can cause the blood flow to become turbulent, and this turbulence produces a sound known as a 'murmur'." (2008: 298).

Listening to the heart is an evocative reminder of the internal 'busyness' of the body; the ongoing rhythms of activity that allow the body, as an event, to transpire/emerge/become.

The Cartesian Cut? exhibition will showcase artists who are engaging sensitively with the body and exploring multi-sensorial formats and mediums in their creative practice.    

Free submission: email, deadline 14/03/16



Rice, T. 2013. Hearing the hospital: sound, listening, knowledge and experience. Canon Pyon: Sean Kingston Press.

Rice, T. 2013. ‘Broadcasting the Body: the public made private in hospital soundscapes’ in G. Born (ed.) Music, Sound and Space: transformations of public and private experience, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rice, T. 2012. ‘Sounding Bodies: medical students and the acquisition of stethoscopic perspectives’’ in T. Pinch and K. Bijsterveld (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

Rice, T. 2010. ‘Learning to listen: auscultation and the transmission of auditory knowledge’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Special Issue 2010: S41-S61.

Rice, T. 2010. ‘The hallmark of a doctor’: the stethoscope and the making of medical identity. Journal of Material Culture 15(3): 287-301.

Rice, Tom. 2008. “Beautiful Murmurs”: Stethoscopic Listening and Acoustic Objectification, Senses and Society, Volume 3, Issue 3: 293–306

Rice, Tom. 2003. Soundselves: An acoustemology of sound and self in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Soundselves: An acoustemology of sound and self in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Anthropology TodayVolume 19, Issue 4, pages 4–9.