Signal processing is one of the most important and understudied dimensions of contemporary sound cultures and of electronic media more broadly. In the sonic register, it inflects everything from music production, wired or wireless transmission, and radio broadcast to everyday conversation and listening. Because it is embedded in all stages of contemporary sound production, reproduction, and reception, it has remained an elusive subject for critique. This essay considers the poetics of audio signal processing—the figural dimensions of the technical process and the representations of this process in audio-technical discourse. The article focuses on two metaphorical frames commonly applied to signal processing in the everyday language of musicians and audio technologists: cooking and travel. Through a reading of Claude Lévi-Strauss, it suggests that metaphors of rawness and cooking elevate signal processing to a kind of culturing process by which sound is readied for consumption by listeners through specialized technologies and techniques. The argument situates the spatialization of signal flow and the design of circuit topology within long-standing ideas about travel and voyage that inflect Western epistemologies of sound. As metaphors for signal processing, cooking and travel mark cultural locations (e.g., gendered, classed, able-bodied positionalities) much as they do in broader social contexts. Not only is signal processing subject to the critique of representation, it is, more than any other technical register, directly linked to the contemporary cultural politics of perception and reception. Although this article focuses on sound technologies, a full cultural critique of signal processing would consider its central role in every sense register.
Research Article|December 01 2011