This article discusses autoexperiments, field notes, and laboratory tests on the hardware and software of cochlear implants. Electroacoustic devices resist seeing-through. Yet in the case of cochlear implants, the desires of early users, the conflicting demands of mainstream medicine and economics, and the mediated features of electrical listening, the politics attendant upon communication can be found embedded in the design of electroacoustic objects. Many bioethicists have taken up the Deaf culture or linguistic minority critique of implantation, which situates this technology in the long history of eugenicist attempts to promote oralism through the medical eradication of deafness and through pedagogical bans on sign language. Despite the prominence of the cochlear implant in disability studies, bioethics, and science fiction, however, this has inspired little research in science and technology studies (STS).
This article explores the inner and outer sancta of noise, focusing on the hospital setting as the outer, and earplugs as the inner sancta. Hospitals were sanctuaries from the noise of the world. Earplugs were sentries' thrust into the meatus, inelegant guardians of an elegant labyrinth, an inner sanctum that was sound's lymphatic burrow and rebirth. The study relates to the experiences of patients in hospitals as self-testimonies or case records. It suggests that despite cautious efforts to keep hospitals noiseless, quiet zones around hospitals could not suppress noises arising from within. As a result, hospitals had to make private rooms and install monitors, call buttons and alarms, compounding the cacophony at and around nurses' stations. As embodiments of two distinct modes of dealing with noise, the individual and the institutional, earplugs and hospitals meet up time and again at precisely that intersection at which Kafka put his hapless heroes, subject to the perpetual buzzing of The Castle and an ominous, indefinable whistling.
The study of iPod use throws light on users' attitudes toward public places, others, and their own cognitive management of experience. This article analyzes the nature of the pleasures of auditory toxicity, which goes beyond the proprioceptive into the nature of the social world and the communication technologies. In doing so it recognizes that iPod use should not be divorced from a range of other media and communication technologies habitually made use of. The intense sonic immersion embodied in iPod use itself contains elements of both toxicity and creativity. This duality of use produces its own paradoxes, since people blast music in their ears to derive pleasure, and yet yearn for control, peace and quiet. Thus lies the paradox of toxic audiotopias: sound produces silence, connectivity produces separation, and mediated toxicity produces control. Finally, the article suggests that iPods are just one element of the changing sound matrix of contemporary culture.
Online Music Sites as Sonic Sociotechnical Communities: Identity, Reputation, and Technology at ACIDplanet.com
Trevor Pinch and Katherine Athanasiades
This article focuses upon one form of digital music making that is created and shared among Internet users. Websites dedicated to this new form of musical production and consumption are generally part of social networking sites which may include the uploading and downloading of music as a feature. This article particularly deals with a website called “ACIDplanet”, in which much of the music is made by a special software program, ACID. This software turns a computer into a digital recording studio and enables users to make music by downloading repetitive samples of music, known as “loops.” The article presents an ethnographic study (conducted 2005–2007) of the working of this online music site. It is particularly concerned with three themes: how reputations are achieved in this online world, how musical identities are negotiated, and how much is in common between the online and offline world of musical identities and reputations.
Jonathan Sterne and Mitchell Akiyama
This article uses the story of the phonautograph as a way of investigating the development of a cluster of practices called “sonification,” or the transformation of nonsonic data into audible sound. It begins with introducing the phonautograph and reasons as to why its study is relevant under the field of sound studies. It considers the possibility of listening to a phonautograph recording as marking an aesthetic and epistemic shift in the history of sound. It then reviews a range of practices of sonification, all of which move data and experience between the sonic and nonsonic registers. This study advances three nested methodological propositions. It argues for attending to the modularity of sensory technologies, modularity of the relations between senses, subjects, and technologies, modularity of the senses themselves. Finally, the article concludes by returning to the case of the phonoautograph in order to advance some speculative propositions regarding the present conjuncture in the history of sound.
The Search for the “Killer Application”: Drawing the Boundaries around the Sonification of Scientific Data
While the ears interpret information all the time, the usage of sound to represent scientific data remains contested. This article deals with the sonification of scientific data. It focuses on strategies that the practitioners of sonification utilize to establish the legitimacy of sonification as a scientific method of data display. Furthermore, it presents a study of a community that attempts to liberate the sounds from their hidden by using them as a tool in the analysis and representation of scientific data. It focuses on the establishment of a core sonification community and studies debates about how to best define the field. Subsequently, the article discusses the community's search for a “killer application” and how expectations shape the community, zooming in on the borderline between science and art where boundary conflicts appear large. Finally, it discusses the disputes about notions of “quality” and how to best assess it.
This article deals with the nuances of sound design and management in Pixar's animated shorts. It begins with discussing the concept, and emergence, of animation in films and sound design's role in the era of digital animation. It then explores technological innovation and animation in transition, dealing with sound design in Pixar studio style. Using a variety of theoretical perspectives from digital culture, sound studies, and traditional film studies, this article argues that as the techniques of computer generated animation developed at Pixar, sound design became an integral aspect of this new mode of storytelling and overall filmic design. Finally, it suggests that if the roles of the animator and the sound designer merge, this could offer the potential of not only a significant shift in Pixar's house style but also a realignment of the cultural reception and expectations related to sound and image design in the digital age.
This article deals with the use of sound in digital games. It reveals how the design of sound for such a medium contributes to player immersion in the game world. Following this, the article explores the relationship between sound and image. There is a difference in the use or perception of sound in the real world and in virtual worlds, which gives rise to the concept of immersion, and this difference is discussed in detail. Furthermore, the article focuses on the relationship between digital game sound and the player and how such sound is designed to achieve a perception of immersion and, and whether such immersion is achieved. Finally, it throws light on the fact that real world and virtual world are not isolated phenomena, that the immersed player still utilizes real-world objects to interface with the game world and is attentive to real-world happenings.
This article deals with the radio dial as a mediating interface. It begins with briefly tracing the early history of amateur radio technology and its advent as a sensorial revolution. It then discusses the crucial steps in the technological development of radio in the 1920s by focusing on the central role of radio amateurs and the tacit knowledge needed for the operation of these new electronic machines. Furthermore, it explores the gradual emergence of a European regulatory regime in frequency planning, mirroring the need for regulation of the fast-expanding broadcasting infrastructure of the mid-1920s. The successful promotion of a “technopolitics of accuracy” by the technical committee paved the way for the standardization of European frequencies and enabled the successful implementation of calibrated station scales as technical and aesthetic innovations in radio receiver design in Europe. Finally, the article interprets the changes in receiver design as material inscriptions of regulatory efforts.