Isabel Bredenbröker and Adam Pultz:
Queer Sonic Fingerprint

How do bodies sound? And how can a group of ‘objects’ in a museum collection resonate in unexpected queer kin relations with one another? The interactive multichannel sound installation Queer Sonic Fingerprint makes these relations audible. Sound artist Adam Pultz Melbye and anthropologist Isabel Bredenbröker employ queer and decolonial theory as well as anthropological work on kinship to speculatively imagine non-normative relations around ‘objects’ in collections of ethnological museums and beyond. The installation amplifies their materiality through sonic fingerprints—that is—the reflections of a body's unique acoustic characteristics. In a transdisciplinary encounter with sound processing and evolutionary computing, dynamically changing fingerprints bring museum ‘objects’ to life in a multichannel sonic ecology.

Queer relations and identities have been at the centre of various conflicts in response to normative ideas about how these should be defined. Queerness contains a tension, something which gender and sexuality studies scholar Susan Talburt identifies as a fundamentally productive quality. ‘Objects’ in ethnographic collections are things deeply affected by the colonial encounter and its political aftermath. They, too, are caught in a state of conflict, as current hot debates about ownership, their history, their representative functions, and proper place come to show. Voices from indigenous communities and scholars have reframed so-called ethnographic ‘objects’ in museum collections as person-like entities. Concurrently, anthropological work has begun to imagine collections not just as alienated masses of stuff, but instead as very subject-like entities that are enmeshed in a network of kin-like relations, for example to living human beings, to knowledge, or land. Our installation includes those relations that are currently being claimed with increasing insistence, alongside considering relations between collection items.

The playback of the sonic fingerprints will form part of a multichannel sound installation also involving field recordings and spoken narrative. Here, kinship and relations between objects become sonic relations, contributing a different register to what is traditionally a visual experience. Museum displays and collections are governed by strict rules: from conservationist points of view, objects may not be touched, from specific cultural points of view, objects may sometimes not be seen. Additionally, the overwhelming majority of a collection is locked behind closed doors and inaccessible to the public or researchers. In response to such restrictions, the sonic domain can make ethnographic objects accessible through a different sensory modality. Here, imagining a sonic image of these bodies offers a sensitive way of not looking or touching, not representing or claiming ownership.

Relations, even amongst presumably static objects, are always in motion, often escaping human agency. Similarly, the fingerprints of these virtual sonic objects are in a state of continuous change. Throughout the installation the sonic fingerprints will merge, recombine, and create new generations of virtual fingerprints with their own acoustic properties, evading museal categorisations and representational claims, just like queer identities and ways of kinning evade normative ideas of gender, relations, and sexuality. Through evolutionary computing and audience interaction, Queer Sonic Fingerprint highlights new object-relations that transcend the logic of the museum as a place of clear-cut display, education and safekeeping. A multisensory and interactive format challenges such established forms of museal practice. Through the speculative sonic-material futures that emerge, non-normative kinship and queer narratives work toward a critique of the ethnographic collection's colonial roots.

For a detailed step-by-step explanation of sonic fingerprinting and evolutionary computing, follow this link.


Isabel Bredenbröker is a social and cultural anthropologist working between art and academia. They hold a DFG Walter Benjamin Postdoctoral Fellowship which is based between the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH) and the Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik at Humboldt University Berlin. Isabel's work focusses on material and visual culture, anthropology of art and museums, queer theory and intersectionality, situatedness and autoethnography, colonialism, cleaning and waste. They have produced ethnographic films, worked with field recording and (co-)curated as well as contributed to exhibitions in museum and contemporary art contexts. Isabel's book ‘Rest in Plastic: Death, time and synthetic materials in a Ghanaian Ewe community’ is forthcoming with Berghahn.

Adam Pultz Melbye is a double bass player, composer, and improviser working in the field of acoustic and electronic sound. Adam's work spans live performance, sound installation, sound for dance, theatre, film, multimedia, sculpture, algorithmic design, and instrument building. They have performed and exhibited work in Europe, Australia, the US, and Japan, while appearing on close to 50 albums. Adam often performs with semi-autonomous feedback systems, such as the FAAB (feedback-actuated augmented bass). Adam holds a practice-led PhD in music technology from SARC, Queen's University Belfast.

Supported by:

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Dansk Komponistforening/KODA Kultur, and Sound Art Lab