The Sound Studies Reader Paperback – 21 Jun 2012
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"Throughout the development of sound studies from both technological and aesthetic corners, the voice has accompanied the bolstering of the sonic and the new emphasis on listening and noise as an exemplifying force. Nowehere has that been clearer than in Jonathan Sterne's The Sound Studies Reader... In many instances, the articles contained within this volume offer a taste of a scholar's great theoretical expanse and can act as gateways for interested readers to dive into further research." - Gelsey Bell, Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
"The Reader is an excellent collection and source of inspiration for all – newcomers as well as old hands – in sound studies research that crosses disciplines, methodologies and theories. It is also a “must” for academics in the humanities and sociology who have not yet encountered or dared to incorporate sound studies in their interdisciplinary study and research." - Ansa Lønstrup, Associate professor, Aarhus University, Denmark
"The Sound Studies Reader manages to contain, in one (albeit fairly large) book, an amazing breadth of scholarly approaches to the study of sound. From phenomenological to anthropological to cultural studies to science and technology studies, the approaches range across disciplines, fields, and methodologies to offer a broad spectrum of thought on this very current topic. Alongside all of that, the choices also reflect care for writing and communication; they are accessible, readable, well-written. I have no doubt that I will be recommending this book to students frequently and for a long time to come. For those with any interest in this field, it needs to be on your shelf, if it isn't open and being actively consulted." Anahid Kassabian, University of Liverpool, UK
'The Sound Studies Reader provides so much food for thought that, in this brief space, I could only give some hints of its reach, the issues it addresses and the problems it raises. Needless to say, it will likely become a benchmark for anyone interested in this topic.' - Carlo Nardi, Dancecult
'...we begin by recommending what we think is the most useful collection on sound studies to date...The result of Sterne's stance is a refreshingly balanced anthology that unflinchingly includes a variety of critical, historical, and theoretical perspectives.' Joshua Gunn, Greg Goodale, Mike M. Hall and Rosa A. Eberly, Rhetoric Society Quarterly
About the Author
Jonathan Sterne teaches in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies and the History and Philosophy of Science Program at McGill University. He is author of The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (2003), MP3: The Meaning of a Format (2012); and numerous articles on media, technologies and the politics of culture. He also makes sound. Visit his website at http://sterneworks.org.
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Sterne’s reader is divided into six broad parts on different discussions of sound, each of which include about eight articles. Due to the wide variety of article content throughout the reader, section titles are not necessarily a useful device for determining the subject of an article. Many of the articles are interchangeable between sections. Substantially, there are many connections among articles between sections of the book. Some articles are much easier to interpret than others and the length of an article does not determine its clarity. This is due partly to the blurring of some articles’ clarity as they are taken out of the context of their original publication. Although Sterne includes an extensive list of notes and references with each article, the original publication date of each article is difficult to determine as it is not included next to the title. This drawback can complicate the understanding of an article if context based on original publication date is unclear.
In my study of this reader, I found three different articles in all of which the author discussed a “soundscape” or “sonic landscape.” The first author to introduce this topic of study is R. Murray Schafer in his article, The Soundscape. Schafer begins by relaying his beliefs that the soundscape has changed for worse as ‘noise pollution’ now encompasses much of this soundscape. He examines the history of soundscape and discusses its change through ages and cultures, and its influence by scientists, inventors, and music composers. Sterne includes an author who refers directly to this article in her own writing while taking a slightly different spin on the subject. In Sound, Modernity and History, Emily Thompson essentially elaborates on R. Murray Schafer’s The Soundscape. In this “sonic environment,” Thompson observes the soundscape of history versus the soundscape of today. In particular, she examines acoustics. In the third article, Reading the Sonoric Landscape, Richard Leppert does not refer to either of the aforementioned authors although a strong connection can be made between the readings as if all three authors collaborated for a comprehensive publication on ‘the soundscape.’ Leppert takes a historical and philosophical stance on the subject and incorporates the sonic landscape into a visual piece of art. He qualifies this by stating that a sonic landscape can be visual, especially in its qualities of music and how the observer receives the sonic landscape. Sterne chose relative articles on similar or directly related topics and placed them in different sections of the reader. In studying the sonic landscape, the reader receives insight on the historical and sensory aspects of this subject.
Mara Mills and Karin Bijsterveld both discuss similar health concerns and technological solutions for hearing. In Hearing Aids and the History of Electronics Miniaturization, Mara Mills observes the miniaturization of electronics in general as well as hearing aids’ specific role in this field. Although Mills cites hearing aids as being the first miniaturized electronic device, she studies the parts that make up the hearing aid such as “button” mercury batteries and subminiature vacuum tubes. Mills discusses the definition and function of a miniature device and the market and pricing of hearing aids compared to devices of similar innovative history. As Mills discusses a technological device to improve a health situation, Bijsterveld discusses the history and issue of hearing loss. In Listening to Machines: Industrial Noise, Hearing Loss and the Cultural Meaning of Sound, Karin Bijsterveld discusses noise pollution; in particular, that which was found in industrial factories of the late 1800s and early 1900s. According to this article, initially, factory managers were criticized for maintaining an environment where young boys’ and men’s ears were damaged. Bijsterveld points out that the workers were against earplugs as they accepted hearing loss as a part of life and felt in the right place immersed in the machines’ noise.
Sterne provides a greater appreciation for and understanding of sound through historic accounts and cultural analysis. The variation of articles demonstrate how sound can be appreciated as art or criticized as pollution. Sterne created a compilation depicting sound as a landscape of many elements influencing culture, history, and interactions between people groups. Major and minor occurrences of sound’s influence can be found in The Sound Studies Reader, and the numerous articles provide a base for study and discussion.
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