portrait of charles eppley in glases and dark gray shirt.
  • Visiting Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History

Education

  • BA, Hiram College, 2008
  • MA, Stony Brook University, 2011
  • PhD, Stony Brook University, 2017

Biography

Charles Eppley is a visiting assistant professor of modern and contemporary art. In this position, they teach courses on sonic art, disability aesthetics, and the history and theory of “art and technology.”

Prior to teaching at Oberlin, Eppley was a 2018 Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow within the Epistemes of Modern Acoustics research group at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. They are also currently a research fellow in the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) at Bell Labs, where they research the history of artist residencies and creative engineering in the context of computing and media industries.

Their interdisciplinary research is based upon three basic questions: What are the politics of listening? How are these politics rendered possible through new media material cultures? How are they made audible—and knowable—by artists? These questions are answered by attending to sonic and electronic artworks (analog or digital) that exist within techno-social systems of power, and which can highlight the intersection of critical topics including disability, gender, sexuality, colonialism, and race. This research takes the form of peer-reviewed journal articles, art and music criticism, curatorial projects, workshops, and public programs.

Eppley’s research challenges the primacy of vision in art history by attending to listening as a site for aesthetic, social, and political knowledge. Drawing from the fields of media studies and musicology, their work engages with physical acoustics, energy, and cultures of listening to retool art historical concepts like medium, authorship, and spectatorship. Through this frame, their research proposes a new vocabulary for analyzing sonic art and music (in addition to electronic and digital art) that bolsters formal aesthetics with social inquiry.

Eppley has organized numerous curatorial projects, workshops, performances, and public programs, such as the first Cybernetics Conference (2017) (co-organized as a founding member of the Cybernetics Library) and the performance/workshop program titled You Do It Yourself (2018) that examined connections between gender, homemade electronics, and experimental music.

As a member of art collectives Avant.org and the Cybernetics Library, their various projects have been presented at MoMA PS1, Queens Museum, Tate Modern, the Internet Archive, and the School for Poetic Computation. Eppley serves on Media and Archives committees of the Reclaim Pride Coalition (Queer Liberation March) .

Their current project, “Underwater Music: Max Neuhaus and the Electronic Circuit as Post-Musical Score,” describes how sound and installation art were historically circumscribed by the emergence of “art and technology” within artistic, cultural, and institutional frameworks.

I argue that Neuhaus’s underwater sound installations of the 1970s were instrumentalized as a tool for Cold War cultural imperialism within a transnational political infrastructure comprised of art residencies, public art festivals, and public radio networks.

I analyze the techno-material culture of West Germany and the postwar U.S. in which Neuhaus operated to reveal how sonic art was circumscribed by global systems of geopolitical and cultural power.

Their writings have appeared in peer-reviewed journals, art magazines, and other digital platforms.

Their journal article, “Beyond Cage: On Sonic Art History and Historiography was published in Parallax (July 2017) and proposes the paradigm of sonic art history. The article analyzes the art historical legacy of new music composers John Cage and Henry Cowell and their aesthetic influence upon Fluxus artists George Brecht and Dick Higgins.

Eppley then argues that art history benefits from reinterpreting Cage as a materialist, rather than conceptualist, composer in order to understand the concept of ‘dematerialization’ in postwar art, 1960-1980, through sound and listening culture.

Their article, “Times Square: Contingencies and Strategies of Preserving Sonic Art,” was published in Leonardo Music Journal (December 2017) and assesses the preservation of sonic and digital artworks. The piece discusses how one public sound installation by Neuhaus was susceptible to electronic rot, municipal and public government policies, and private curatorial and funding strategies that created unstable conditions for its long-term conservation.

Eppley also published a coedited special issue of Public Art Dialogue (spring 2019) on the topic of sonic public art. The issue, “Soundsites: Experiments in Sound and Place ,” features historical essays, critical writings, and art projects that consider affective relationships between sound, site, and place.

The issue includes articles on topics that highlight connections between sound and community, including writings on food justice, Indigenous sonic art, corporate new music aesthetics, sonic monuments, and Holocaust soundscapes.

They recently presented new research on electronic musician and computer artist Laurie Spiegel at the 2019 Society for the History of Technology meeting in Milan.

The paper, entitled “Listening to Computer History: Max Mathews, Laurie Spiegel, and Electronic Sound Synthesis at Bell Labs, 1957-1986,” argues that Spiegel’s interactive computer program and composition, Music Mouse (1976), is a useful artifact through which we may understand the sonic history of computing and the transistor as a sound technology.

At CAA 2020, they present new work on contemporary African sound art, genocide, and decolonization, and describe how one recent sonic public artwork reinforces cultural trauma of a past genocide.