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date: 05 June 2020

Anytime, Anywhere? An Introduction to the Devices, Markets, and Theories of Mobile Music

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter introduces the core themes of the volume, with a particular emphasis on the theories, markets, and devices of mobile music. After offering a brief introduction to the emerging field of mobility studies, the chapter examines in detail a number of key terms, including “mobile music,” “portability,” and “ubiquity,” all of which contribute to the crux of the text’s argument: that mobile music in its modern form has existed over the course of a long century. The chapter then provides a history of the marketing catchphrase “anytime, anywhere,” and theorizes its numerous implications for the development of mobile music as a cultural practice. The chapter ends with a series of discussion points that provide a heuristic for doing mobile music studies.

Keywords: mobile music, marketing, ubiquity, portable technology, music technology, convergence phenomenon


It does not require particularly keen observation of the social practices of the early decades of the twenty-first century to realize that momentous changes have occurred concerning music and sound. All over the world, individuals comport themselves and perform their everyday activities with portable digital gadgets in their hands, their pockets, their backpacks. The list of devices—vast and perpetually in flux—has included iPods and other MP3 players, a bewildering array of mobile phones and smartphones, wireless data-network devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), portable video game players, tablet PCs, laptop computers, miniaturized DVD players and television units, compact sound and video recorders, locative media devices (such as global positioning systems), and much more. The all-powerful integrated circuit and compact microprocessor that also pervade large and small appliances, tools, and vehicles—as well as credit cards and human bodies in an unprecedented facilitation of state and market surveillance—have become integral components of a banal reality that blithely, if differentially, spans generational cohorts. The digital sublime, whose arrival was initially heralded on the trading floors and dominated elite and middle-class imaginaries, now reverberates in the pockets and the eardrums of large swathes of humanity, while the constituent industries of the high-tech sector laboriously chug along, weekly generating “new new things” in the hopes that one of them might turn a massive profit.

(p. 2) This epoch of the digital sublime—roughly beginning in the mid-1980s (although one could argue convincingly for multiple inception points)1—hearkens back to an earlier one, the epoch of electrical and mechanical conveyance, with key developments in portable power sources, wireless transmission devices, transducers, connectors and plugs, storage and circuitry, and, not incidentally, in the practices of music production and consumption. Yet the digital epoch is only one moment in a long history of what could be termed “mobile sound culture.” Its many phases are definable by various accumulations of technological forms as sound sources: thus, before the iPod and the smartphone, one could point to the presence of nondigital devices—some mechanical, most electrical—as wide ranging as the portable gramophone, the walkie-talkie, the transistor radio, the automobile radio, the portable field recorder, hearing aids, and, reaching a new stage perhaps, the boombox and the Walkman—each with its own distinctive sonic features, practices, repertories, economies, and demographics.

An uncritical observer might assume that before the advent of portable miniaturized sonic devices, music and sound were tethered to specific spaces and places—that they were, essentially, static. But this assumption is not only perverse (sound being, by definition, mobile), but also ahistorical in multiple ways. For millennia, people have migrated with musical instruments, numerous sonic practices, and documents containing notated melodies and performance instructions. The auditory dimension is one of the essential features of religious, ceremonial, and military processions; communities defined by labor practices, markets, rituals, and architectures find sound and music coursing through them, often emitted by mobile sources (agricultural workers, itinerant vendors, domesticated animal species, etc.). But the story told in the contents of this volume is one starting in the late nineteenth century with the technological developments and socialities that produced new and world-historical transformations in the scale, speed, and types of human and material mobility. It is, in other words, a story of metastasized global capitalism, with the economic interests of large and increasingly multinational conglomerates and the political exigencies of modern nation-states steadily gaining firmer control over the possible horizons for converging technologies.

One dominant tendency within this narrative has been for everyday life and ideology to conform to and coproduce one another, realized in the reifications of “the consumer,” “markets,” and even “experience” itself. Such thematics have been marked hyperbolically at the tail end of the period under consideration in this volume. Consider, for example, the discourse of multinational conglomerates in the tech industry, for which mobility represents a crucial frontier for capital accumulation, an opportunity for and driver of growth. As Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs ebulliently put it in his opening keynote at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show, “We believe that all consumer electronics companies are either already in the mobile business or soon will be. This is a revolution.…Modern life…is becoming mobile-centric” (Jacobs 2012).

The “mobile business” paradoxically received a great boost around 2008, the year inaugurating the Great Recession. The much-discussed phenomenon of “convergence”—wherein devices and delivery systems are said to merge inexorably, if unevenly2—reached a turning point, due to a remarkable and coincidental conjunction. (p. 3) The emergence of the mass-market smartphone, specifically Apple’s iPhone (in 2007), shortly predated the recession. An entirely new economy for mobile software applications (apps) resulted, irrevocably transforming the niche mobile entertainment industry (once built on the ringtone)3 and ballooning in revenue by 2011 (about $8.5 billion USD) (Reisinger 2012).4 Due to the iPhone and the app, a plethora of mobile devices (many of which produce or record sound) was progressively subsumed by smartphones (including Google Android system-based phones) and tablet computers (including the Apple iPad, released in 2010).

As a case study in the shifting landscape of digital device “ecologies” (to invoke a much-bandied-about term), the smartphone and its apps comprise a growing portion of the “mobile media” market, which has been inseparable from mobile sound culture since 2000. While it could be said that a volume on mobile music studies improperly telescopes this new marketing label onto a much broader swath of social and economic practices, the profound intensification of sonic output as a result of this new market (encompassing or incorporating functional beeps, clicks, and buzzes, musicalized ringtones, digital sound files, digital broadcasts, mobile games, natural language user interfaces) perhaps draws—or should draw—attention to the fact that during the long century that we mark in these two volumes, mechanical, electrical, and digital mobility was significantly meant to be heard.

Mobility Studies

Concomitant with the rise of the mobile-media-industrial complex has been the emergence of an academic discipline that takes mobility as its central concern: mobility studies.5 That such a field has undergone rapid development since the mid-2000s is unsurprising: the desire to name the “cultural dominant”—in Fredric Jameson’s sense—continues unabated, with scholars of the “mobile” arguably seeking to supplant the previous meta-signifiers “global,” “cosmopolitan,” and “postmodern” (1991:4, passim). The basic truth of mobility studies—a field studying “social practices centered upon the material movement of people and objects, as well as their imaginative and virtual movement” (Vannini 2010:111)—is that the world is, well, in motion: in John Urry and Mimi Sheller’s words, “All the world seems to be on the move” (2006:207–226). Expressing a fundamentally Heraclitean perspective, mobility studies places less of an accent on concepts of fixity such as structure, system, stasis, and apparatus, and instead favors a fluid conception of the world much in vogue since the appearance of poststructuralism. An interdisciplinary field of inquiry, mobility studies draws heavily on geography and sociology (the two major source disciplines for mobility studies), as well as migration studies, transportation studies, science and technology studies, tourism research, and scholarship on globalization.

Urry, one of the key figures in the field, has perhaps made the most prominent programmatic statements in mobility studies, making claims for a “mobility turn” (p. 4) reminiscent of the “cultural turn” or “linguistic turn” and proposing a “mobilities paradigm” intended to inform new research. Although within this paradigm Urry identifies five types of mobility—the corporeal travel of people, the physical movement of objects, imaginative travel through images, virtual travel (often in real time), and communicative travel via message, post, and telecommunications (2007:47)—it is fair to say that physical and material travel are prioritized in the field. Nonetheless, the range of subjects covered by scholars working within mobility studies is dizzyingly wide: airports, air travel, automobile use, railway journeys, tourism, mobile workers, gendered mobilities, cycling, (bus) coach tours, bike messengers, traffic, urbanization, travel discourse, commuting, mundane bus journeys, affordances of travel time, space/place, boating cultures, walking, temporal experience, leisure mobilities, highway systems, car travel, transit competencies, consumption, diasporic communities, everyday encounters, immigration, stations/terminals (“nonplaces”), taxis, transport systems, transnationalism, mobile surveillance, and war number among these. Given that mobility has long been understood as domain-specific, as in studies of “social mobility,” perhaps most striking is mobility studies’ insistence on a pluralized, wide-ranging, and generalized understanding of mobility, one that arguably reflects the ubiquity of mobility itself in the contemporary world. Indeed, one product of mobility studies is a series of new portmanteaus that combine the term “mobilities” with various prefixes—including “automobilities” and “aeromobilities”—and thereby illustrate at the level of language the recombinant and proliferating nature of that field.

Although pleas for greater attention to the cultural can be found—Stephen Greenblatt’s Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto (Greenblatt et al. 2010) is especially striking—largely, the gravitational center of mobility studies has been transportation-oriented social science. Therefore, one might not find it surprising that little mention is made of music or culturally constructed understandings of sound (as characteristic of sound studies) in mobility studies’ key texts. The unfortunate effect of this disciplinary orientation is that mobility studies is, by and large, silent.6 Of course, this need not be the case, and it is our contention that music studies and sound studies should take note of and be in conversation with the new mobility studies. Indeed, both would have a great deal to offer one another: for example, understandings of mobility in terms of moorings (Adey 2010:21–24; Urry 2007), or stable points that structure and make possible entire mobility systems, can guide research on musical mobility, drawing attention to relationships between relatively fluid and fixed elements within a broader system (say, the relationship between individual iPhones and the centralized storage of sound files in Apple’s iTunes Store server farm in Maiden, North Carolina).7 Similarly, scholars of music and sound have much to contribute to mobility studies, problematizing the transportation-based reduction of mobility by demonstrating the ways in which transit often involves physical stasis (Bissell and Fuller 2011), thereby permitting concentrated mobile music listening, mobile gaming, and other activities perpetually assumed to be taking place primarily “on the move.” In this regard, the forty-two chapters that comprise the two volumes of The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies could be read as a call to scholars of mobility to take music and sound much more seriously.

(p. 5) The Genealogy of “Mobile Music”

Although the literatures mentioned above theorize “the mobile” in various ways, the specific conjunction of “mobile” and “music” has a somewhat different history. An historically contingent and variable term, “mobile music” originates with uses of the modifier “mobile” to inflect descriptions of various (often vehicular) musical practices or phenomena—mobile music vans, mobile music circus, mobile music system, and so on. In the rare appearances of “mobile music” as a distinct grammatical entity prior to the end of the 1970s, “mobile” often modified “music,” as in a 1939 review in the Musical Times of Sir Arthur Bliss’s Viola Sonata: “It is particularly mobile music. This does not mean quick tempi. It means that harmony, line and rhythm are continually on the move from one point to the next” (McNaught 1939:198).8 The release of the Walkman in 1979 signaled a new notion—mobile music—in which the two words formed an indissoluble compound noun. Early uses of the term appeared in English-language print around 1980; for example, in an article referring to a proposal in Chicago for suppressing public Walkman listening the author writes, “An Alderman says he wants to crack down on mobile music for the sake of safety” (United Press International 1981).

As far as we are aware, Shuhei Hosokawa’s article “The Walkman Effect” (1984) contains the first actual theorization of the term “mobile music.”9 But prescient as his article was (and it certainly anticipated by a few decades some principal concerns of scholars working in music and sound studies in the early 2000s), he resorts to a curious anachronism, choosing to use the Latin musica mobilis instead of the English term. The Latin has a dual effect: it provides some theoretical heft, and the placing of both words under italics also serves to conjoin them typographically, the once-sunderable modifier now linked with its nominative partner. In Hosokawa’s use, musica mobilis is “music whose source voluntarily or involuntarily moves from one point to another, coordinated by the corporal transportation of the source owner(s)” (166). This seemingly straightforward definition points to a number of crucial concerns of the field of mobile music studies: the relationship between human and nonhuman, transportation and movement, spatial traversal and defined locations, ownership and control. Hosokawa goes on to provide a capsule sociology of the development of mobile music—portraying an historical process that proceeds from the social and collective to the familial and, ultimately, to the autonomous individual; from aggregate, ambient sound to focused, individuated listening; from musical production to reproduction—and marks that development as fundamentally urban.

The anticipatory aspects of Hosakawa’s theorization don’t come into full focus until the emergence of a bona fide mobile music market in the early 2000s. This market entailed a crucial shift in all domains of the music industry: music, typically in the form of a ringtone, was now purchased directly via the mobile telephone (or “mobile”), with entire subindustries emerging to meet new demands for consumption.10 Gerard (p. 6) Goggin provides a substantial treatment of the mobile music market, delineating its telephonic antecedents (the Telharmonium and the standard phone ringer), the ringtone’s development, the recent history of the portable music player, the economic changes to the music industry and music consumption, the mobilization of filesharing, and experimental forms of mobile music (2011:55–79). The slipperiness of the term “mobile music” is evidenced by the number of distinct formations and processes it modifies in Goggin’s book: “mobile music market” (67); “mobile music interests” (67, 71); “mobile music consumption” (71); “mobile music technology” (77); “mobile music activities” (77); “mobile music sharing” (74); “mobile music ‘discovery provider’” (73); “mobile music offering” (67); “mobile music devices” (77). And yet, that the term itself has congealed into a mutable modifier says something about its consolidation and capture by various interests, not all of which are intimately tied to the global music industry. For example, the final section of Goggin’s book chapter addresses creative artists and entrepreneurs attempting to expand the purview and meaning of mobile music, including those associated with the Mobile Music Workshops or the company Smule (both of which are treated, within a wide range of experimental creative practices, in the second volume of this Handbook).

Mobile Music as Portability and Beyond

As a formulation “mobile music” has a specific and relatively recent history, but for many decades numerous parallel or nearly equivalent terms have been invoked by corporations to describe music and sound production and reproduction systems (not all of which are electrical). Schiffer, in his remarkable book on the history of portable radios, points to the need of corporations to

create a kind of history—cryptohistory—that is very individualized and serves their present-day needs. Into that vast void of past time, corporations place their own accomplishments, real and imagined, to bolster their image in the eyes of consumers, employees, and investors. In advertisements, a company implied that it deserves a favored place in the consumer’s heart because it has long been an innovator or was first with a product important today.… Unfortunately, cryptohistory has a way of insinuating itself into articles and books that masquerade as real history. Uncritical authors and journalists accept corporate claims at face value, passing them along to readers who cannot judge their validity. (1–2)

Recent books on the mobile music industry, for example, typically cite or assume the Walkman as the origin of mobile music listening—or, if not the origin per se, a foundational point in its early development. Here are two examples: “We were the first generation to have mobile music through the revolutionary Sony Walkman” (Jackson and Fulberg 2003:26). “If we consider the example of the Walkman: after its launch, music was mobile, music was everywhere” (Lindgren, Jedbratt, and Svennson 2002: 44, (p. 7) emphasis ours). The notion that the Sony Walkman was the first device to allow for mobile music listening flies in the face of the long history of listening on the move. And yet, the importance of the Walkman as occasioning a mass adoption of mobile music listening should not be understated, even if more careful study is needed to properly assess its world-historical effects.

If a commonsensical understanding of mobile music identifies its inception point with the emergence of the Walkman at the end of the 1970s, a broader yet still oversimplified one would locate mobility within a linear development of devices and media: this would encompass the shifting uses of gramophones and records, radios and radio broadcasts, tape players and magnetic tape, cassette players and cassettes, compact disc players and compact discs, and portable MP3 players and MP3s, and so on. In fact, a cursory study of the development of sound reproduction reveals that mobile variants of these devices (and sometimes media) often appeared coterminously with or shortly after the invention of the devices and media themselves.

So, what would be the components of a long history of mobile music, one extending from the dawn of sound recording in the nineteenth century to its digitized, networked variant in the early twenty-first century? We contend that such a history involves a number of intersecting, chiasmically folded discursive tropes, technological developments, social practices, and materialities, featuring both extensive continuities and periodizable shifts and amounting, essentially, to a history of consumer culture in modernity. This history’s lineaments may be limned out in various cross-sections of a larger totality. Our entry point is the notion of “portability,” which then opens out into a range of key terms and phrases: “miniaturization,” “ubiquity,” “anytime, anywhere,” and “on the go,” among them.

Portability, Miniaturization, and the Body

Anytime, Anywhere? An Introduction to the Devices, Markets, and Theories of Mobile Music

Figure 1.1 “Vacation Time.” Portable Victrola advertisement, 1922.

To grapple with mobile music’s history, one needs to appreciate that the term “mobile” has a number of near-equivalents in both popular and advertising discourses. Perhaps the most important of these is “portable.” As Michael Schiffer observes, “radios called by their makers and users ‘portable’ were sold in every decade of the twentieth century” (1991:1); other devices such as the gramophone or phonograph or mobile communications systems have comparably long histories of portability. Let us take, for example, two innocuous advertisements that appeared in the early 1920s. (See Figures 1.1 and 1.2; also cf. Figure 1.5.) “Portable,” in these examples (and many others like it), refers, quite simply, to the capacity of a commodity to be transported, relocated, and used outside of the home—into the “open air,” as the Apollo Portable Gramophone ad puts it. During the 1920s, there were a large number of portable goods on the market (portable lamps, portable typewriters, portable sewing machines, etc.), and both the Victrola and the gramophone clearly fit into this larger category of items. Portability, as a feature of a commodity, was a currency that inflated wildly during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on account of massive transformations in human (p. 8) (and nonhuman) mobility that occurred as part of the second industrial revolution. As Schiffer argues,

By the early twentieth century, Americans were probably the most mobile people on earth. A vast passenger train system interconnected virtually every hamlet and city. Commuter trains and trolleys—and later the automobile—freed workers from the vicinity of the workplace during off-hours, and so bedroom communities and suburbs began to spring up. In addition, wealthy Americans were becoming accustomed to traveling in their leisure time, to lodges in the country, to the wild West, even to Europe. To accompany mobile people, inventors came up with “pocket” stoves for camping, portable electro-medical batteries, pocket knives, pocket razors, pocket gun oilers, and pocket flashlights. Soon there would be portable sewing machines and typewriters. In addition, numerous goods were sold in boxes or cases with handles for ease of carrying, including tackle boxes, camping outfits, toiletries for men and women, and musical instruments.

(Schiffer 1991:37–38)

Portable goods, we’d suggest, appealed to middle-class aspirations for greater freedom, mobility, and the ability to shape leisure experiences, and encouraged the porting of private forms of control into the public. Indeed, the portable Victrola advertisement in Figure 1.1. emphasizes “vacation time,” calling attention to the longstanding aspirational relationship between consumption and leisure. (Typically, these devices are not discussed in terms of workplace listening, though they were surely used in such contexts as well.) Such goods also held great appeal for device manufacturers, the content industries, and advertising firms, who sought to capitalize on the widening ambit for the sale and use of portable products.11

Anytime, Anywhere? An Introduction to the Devices, Markets, and Theories of Mobile Music

Figure 1.2 “Open Air Music!” Apollo Portable Gramophone advertisement, 1920.

The notion of musical portability, however, underwent a profound shift over the ensuing decades. Given the sheer bulkiness of early sound reproduction devices, portable variants were marketed as such if they could be merely relocated or repositioned with relative ease (even if they remained physically static during use). Subsequently, “portable” also began to convey the possibility of listening while in motion. If the former (p. 9) meaning could be associated, for example, with suitcase and trench gramophones or the earliest portable radios, the latter crystallized in the personal portable radio, including the “midget portable” that begins to be seen in the 1930s, and the “pocket” transistor radio that became widespread in the 1950s. Many of these devices were located on the body, sometimes like a wearable item of apparel (as with early portable radios worn by strap) (Schiffer 1991:117–132). The “pocket”-sized music player could even refer to the difficult-to-mobilize record player, with miniature record players by Philco and Americom appearing in the 1960s and marketed to teenagers (although these could not feasibly be used while in motion).12

Portability has miniaturization as one of its necessary concomitants.13 But what drove the technological development of miniaturization itself? In part, one can point to gradually accumulating scientific and inventive/engineering imperatives and competition, demonstrating that a particular technical function could be achieved by a smaller device or component. Typically, this happened through the development of substitute technologies using different material resources and unfamiliar physical principles (hence, the shift from glass and tungsten-based vacuum tubes to germanium and silicon-based transistors). But a related impetus might be that of cost, given that smaller materials (which are also typically lighter) use less power and are easier to carry (and therefore less (p. 10) expensive to ship and store). Hence, the development of plastics from the burgeoning petrochemical industry in the early to mid-twentieth century, making, for example, portable radios much lighter in weight (Bakelite in the 1930s or newer molded plastics in the 1940s and after) (Schiffer 1991:110, 124, 139). Equally important was the miniaturization of power sources for electrical and electronic goods, principally through the shrinking of the battery used for hearing aids in the mid-1940s and the pocket radio shortly afterward (Schiffer 1991:169).14 But as Mara Mills notes, miniaturization should not be understood merely at the level of individual components; rather, “The interconnections between components [were] miniaturized in conjunction with the components themselves; the steady increase in circuit complexity was always tied to new methods for compact assembly” (2011:24).

One of the effects of miniaturization was the creation of new relationships between bodies and sound-producing devices. Given the demands of operating such devices—and for consumers to develop new skills in doing so (think of the new experience of radio tuning, for example)—it is unsurprising that one of the principal techno-corporeal relationships centered around the human hand, which was not only used to operate devices, it was also central to carrying or porting them. Hence, in the earlier phases of portability, many devices were housed in suitcase- or briefcase-sized boxes to which handles were attached. In fact, on what were typically heavy, bulky (and often somewhat alien) devices, the reassuring presence of a handle was a principal means for conveying a device’s portability and its welcoming proxemics (ready to hand, so to speak). As devices became smaller, they occasioned a range of possible degrees of proximity to the body—a range of ranges—perhaps most simply delineated by being close to, on, or in the body (as with the personal radios discussed earlier). In most cases, proximity or wearability allowed for a greater intimacy between hand and device. But the hand not only manipulated devices; it also served as a primary reference point for them, and for portability more generally, at times even used (as in advertisements) as a proxy means of measurement or weight-assessment. (See Figure 1.3.)15

Anytime, Anywhere? An Introduction to the Devices, Markets, and Theories of Mobile Music

Figure 1.3 “So Small It’s the Biggest News in Radio.” Eveready “B” Battery advertisement, 1939. Used with the generous permission of Energizer Holdings, Inc.

Over the course of the long century of mobile music, the massive transformations in mobility discussed above resulted in humans moving across larger distances more quickly, for a number of reasons including everyday transit (for shopping, etc.), commuting, leisure travel, military deployment, and internal and external migration. As portability became increasingly personal (in terms of device-size and usage), it facilitated and reproduced the ability for travelers to bring their music with them; a key feature of the personal portable device is that the closer it is to the body, the easier it becomes to traverse great distances (a suitcase-sized device presenting more of a hindrance to mobility than, say, a pocket-sized MP3-player). Moreover, the increasing pervasiveness of the personal portable was mirrored by comparable expectations for sonic production within vehicles that were used to bring people from one place to another—hence, the automobile radio, the in-flight radio feed, and so forth. In these instances, the “dead time” of transit would thereby become productive time, either as leisure activity—complementing or supplanting other portable activities, such as reading and card games—or as often uncompensated labor time. (p. 11)


The babbling brook utters no “Hark to Melody” to motoring picnic parties. They bring their wireless with their “wittles” and hold music as well as mustard to be the proper ingredient of a sandwich rustically chewed.

Ivor Brown, 1938

The widespread sale of portable gramophones and radios immediately after WWI and the pocket transistor radio within a decade after the end of WWII can be seen as part of a longer history of sonic ubiquity. The achievement of sonic ubiquity was, in many (but not all) senses, a technological one, and innovations in a variety of domains enabled the creation of compact devices that could be ported from one listening node to another. But why did portability become connected to music in this way, and what were the various provocations for a newly transformed musical and sonic portability? In our view, the emergence of portability as a key basis for musical production and consumption depended profoundly upon a number of interpenetrate factors operating in a complex feedback loop with one another.16 One such factor involved the ways in which the musical soundscape of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century United States was radically transformed by an emerging sheet-music industry (itself dependent on the (p. 12) widespread availability of cheap musical instruments). As David Suisman suggests, “The large-scale promotion of popular song enlivened the soundscape and brought delightful new sounds into the lives of millions of people, but to some extent, this expansion of the music industry infringed on the limited social and cultural environments and psychic space people had available for making music and listening to it” (2009:58; see also Suisman 2010; Taylor 2007; and Katz 2004). There are far-reaching implications for such a socio-sonic transformation. The development of an ever-proliferating number of new nodes for music consumption and listening, dependent in part on the automation of musical reproduction through sound recording and the player piano, irrevocably transformed social space. The production of many new music and sound devices was inseparable from the growth of the music industry, particularly as it shifted toward the sales and broadcasting of prerecorded music in the 1910s and 1920s and gradually away from notated sheet music.

By 1929, the music marketplace had consolidated sufficiently for the poet and cultural critic Paul Valéry to publish a remarkably prescient essay titled “The Conquest of Ubiquity” (La conquête de l’ubiquité). In the essay, Valéry depicts a utopian horizon of artworks and sensory information—“the home delivery of Sensory Reality” (226)—made immediately and uniformly accessible via what he calls the “recent progress in the means of transmission,” a clear reference to the development of radio broadcasting and sound reproduction (227). According to Valéry, two “technical problems” in the transmission of sound had been surmounted by the late 1920s: “I. To make a piece of music instantly audible at any point on the earth, regardless of where it is performed. II. To reproduce a piece of music at will, anywhere on the globe and at any time” (227; emphasis ours). Through these technological developments, music had already essentially achieved this utopian condition, in advance of other art forms, and thereby heralded an enchanted future, in which people would “be able to transform at will an empty hour, an interminable evening, an endless Sunday, into an enchantment, an expression of tenderness, a flight of the spirit” (228). (Although, it needs to be added that he also points to the dystopian aspects of ever-present music: “Even now one can no longer eat or drink at a cafe without being disturbed by a concert.”) In addition to the prognosticatory power of the essay, which almost seems to predict current discussions of cloud-based access and subscription to media content, it is also striking for its titular use of a term that would gain in importance over the remainder of the century; in his words, “Works of art will acquire a kind of ubiquity” (225, emphasis ours).

The terms “ubiquity” and adjectival variant “ubiquitous” are symptomatic of a new media lifeworld in which space and time were transformed to an unprecedented degree, as discussed above. Although the term itself was not as strongly associated with portable media devices as it seems to be today (on account of the notion of “ubiquitous computing” as captured by Mark Weiser), it was nonetheless frequently cited in relation to new technologies. A panoply of gadgets and household devices were overtaking social space, thereby indexing a narrative about the expansion of capitalist modernity. It is in this light that we may interpret the words of the English journalist Ivor Brown, whose 1938 article “The Victory of Tumult” reads as a short sonic ethnography of this new era. (p. 13) In it he discusses the listening practices of young owners of portable radios as part of “The new epoch of ubiquitous, interminable noise” (7), and recounts a conversation he overheard on a railway journey between two young men, one of whom had in his possession a “portable wireless set.” What was especially remarkable to Brown was the way in which the valuation of silence had seemingly disappeared for young people; one of the men was “wholly unable to comprehend why any sensible person should object to music with his tea.…But tea without wireless! Object to a bit of jazz! To sit about in silence or merely to talk! Really, how curious, how extremely odd!” The absence of music’s ubiquity, at least for these and other listeners coming of age in the late 1930s, had become strange, a marked condition and thereby self-evidently inverted when compared to the expectations of “fogies.” As Brown concludes, “This young man’s attitude to wireless appeared to be exactly the opposite of that of his elders. They would turn it on if they wanted it: he would turn it off if he didn’t want it. For them the flow of sound from the box is the unusual thing: they select some item of the aerial programme and try to obtain it. For the youngster and his kind there is little or no selection: perpetuity of such noise is normal.”

Whereas Valéry’s envisioning of ubiquity a decade earlier emphasizes single, stable points in space as locations for listening (the home—as in “home delivery of Sensory Reality”—is clearly the primary locus for Valéry), Brown highlights the experience of a new kind of mobile listening: listening while in transit. As he writes of his young listener, “he took it [the radio] to most places in his car and was quite surprised to find that people did not always relish the various noises which it collected and dispersed.” With the miniaturization of radio components and advances in battery power and antenna technology, listeners were no longer tethered to the radio alongside the hearth; quality of signal reception and changes in social mores resulting from mobile listening became ever more important in the epoch of ubiquitous music. What Brown charts is an incipient moment of the shifting spatial dynamic in musical listening that emerged with the new devices and systems discussed above. To state the obvious, mobility and ubiquity are therefore undeniably bound up with one another.

If music’s ubiquity was a condition identified by more than one commentator during the 1920s and 1930s, it nonetheless seems to have received few sustained theoretical treatments of the sort found more recently (see especially Kassabian 2013; and Quiñones, Kassabian, and Boschi, 2013). One example from the immediate pre-WWII period can be found in Theodor Adorno’s project on the broadcasting and mechanical reproduction of music titled Current of Music.17 One of the most impressive essays in the project concerned “Radio Physiognomics,” which takes as its point of departure Günther (Stern) Anders’ 1930 essay “Spuk und Radio” (Ghosts and Radio).18 Adorno picks up on two examples of music’s mobility discussed by Anders: the sound of a street-organ performed while in motion and another of a man who, emerging from listening to a radio program in his own house, walks down the street and hears the same radio program coming from the houses of his neighbors. For Adorno, these examples point to “the phenomenon of radio ubiquity” (81) and, even as he critiques Anders’ Heideggerian idealization of humans’ experience of the radio, Adorno’s observations (p. 14) about the spatio-temporal shifts occasioned by the radio and phonograph are clearly indebted to Anders. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Adorno’s text is its delineation of the different temporalities and spatialities of sound produced within the spheres of electronically reproduced music on the one hand and live performance on the other. Adorno claims that “The phonograph record destroys the ‘now’ of the live performance, and, in a way, its ‘here’ as well. Although the ubiquity of radio observes the ‘now,’ it certainly is more hostile to the ‘here’” (90). Adorno clearly refers in this instance to Walter Benjamin’s understanding of the source of the non-reproduced artwork’s “aura,” or, its reified, quasi-cultic value: namely, that it derives its uniqueness from its “here and now” (“das Hier und Jetzt”) character. Indeed, Adorno’s essay can be read as an attempt to insert music into Benjamin’s philosophical framework, specifically by positing that live performance is the functional equivalent of the original work of art and that music’s aura, such as it is, is tied to liveness. A focus on sonic forms of ubiquity generated by mass reproduction subtly modulates Benjamin’s ideas and, in so doing, brings Adorno closer to the frame occupied by Valéry a decade earlier (regardless of Benjamin’s famous use of Valéry’s ubiquity essay for his epigraph to the “Work of Art” essay).

Ubiquity indexes a number of place words in Adorno’s thinking, including Benjamin’s “here,” but also “everywhere” and “nowhere” (including, amusingly, his artful rendering of Anders’ claim that radio causes music to be “nowhere to the second power” [82]). Adorno hews to ubiquity’s originally spatial meaning, and thus the time-coincident aspect of radio causes ubiquity or “radio ubiquity” (81, 84) to often mean “space ubiquity” (80–92). The temporalities of mass sound reproduction—in particular the reproductive capacities of the radio and phonograph—are invoked by Adorno through the use of a number of redolent words and phrases: the radio’s “now,” but also by the phonograph’s ability to reproduce music “everywhere in time” (77) and “any time” (92). Indeed, the appearance of “any time” comes at a particularly key moment in Adorno’s essay, at which point he critiques Benjamin’s core claim that mass reproduction destroys aura.

[Standard works] are losing their aura because they no longer keep their distance from the listeners. They show, instead, a tendency to mingle in his every day life because they can appear at practically every moment, and because he can accompany brushing his teeth with the Allegretto of [Beethoven’s] Seventh. If this means the loss of authenticity in our sense of the term, this can also mean an increase of authenticity in another sense, just as the authority of an advertisement increases when it is repeated again and again.… Although a symphony loses the authority of its uniqueness, it accumulates new authority by ubiquity and its faculty of appearing at any time. (91–92)

For Adorno to make such a claim required the condition of a mass-reproduced, ubiquitous music, which was effectively already in place by the previous decade, when Valéry wrote his prophetic essay, and which had been consolidated by the late 1930s. But Adorno’s argument has a usefulness beyond theorizing music’s place in the commodity system, with its harnessing of repetition and reproduction. Musical works “no longer keep their distance from the listeners” because they could be taken to listeners, (p. 15) who could access them in their everyday lives, “at practically every moment.” In a modern world in which those listeners necessarily moved and traveled with great frequency, musical listening could not be decoupled from the ideologies and materialities of mobility.

Anytime, Anywhere

Valéry, Brown, and Adorno produced their theorizations during a particular conjuncture within the historical development of mobile music listening, one in which once-new electrical technologies—especially the radio and electric gramophone—had become sufficiently commonplace. But, mobile music does not begin at this moment; rather, we can backdate its emergence to earlier decades, with the development of the previously mentioned suitcase gramophone and other portable mechanical musical technologies. One index of this condition can be found in turn-of-the-twentieth-century print advertisements. For example, on 19 November 1905, an ad for the “Improved Edison Phonograph” appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune (see Figure 1.4). The advertisement is split into two panels. On the top panel is a series of famous performers representing a wide variety of musical and theatrical styles: clockwise from the left we have John Philip Sousa (military marches), Florencio Constantino (opera), Arthur Collins (minstrel/coon songs), and Joe Weber (of the Weber and Fields comedy duo). On the bottom panel, a white, upper-middle-class family listens to the gramophone and gazes upon the performers above. In the middle of this image is a short but fascinating piece of advertising copy, the first paragraph of which reads:

You can hear any kind of music, anywhere, anytime, if you own an Edison Phonograph. No other automatic entertainer provides such variety and quality of vocal and instrumental music as an IMPROVED EDISON PHONOGRAPH

The phrase “anywhere, anytime” immediately stands out to a contemporary reader familiar with the welter of mobile music and media advertisements widely available today, advertisements in which the most common rendering of the phrase is “anytime, anywhere” (also see Forlano 2008).19 Surprising, perhaps, is the phrase’s sheer resilience. For more than a hundred years it has operated as a key advertising trope for the mobile music industry and, as such, we argue that it needs to be acknowledged as an absolutely crucial discursive figure within mobile music studies. It more or less accurately describes—as well as prescribes—an ideology of immediate and ubiquitous access to music, and its consistent appearance in advertisements from the first decade of the twentieth century to the first decades of the twenty-first lends credence (and continuity) to the notion of a “mobile music century” as discussed above.

Anytime, Anywhere? An Introduction to the Devices, Markets, and Theories of Mobile Music

Figure 1.4 “All in One.” Improved Edison Phonograph advertisement, 1905.

With its blunt juxtaposition of time and space, “anytime, anywhere” is remarkable for the way in which it crystallizes the spatiotemporal complexities of the mobile music market. And yet, the advertisements featuring this trope seem to highlight different spaces (p. 16) rather than different times; indeed—taking account of the long history of “anytime, anywhere” advertisements—the representation of leisure time is more often than not effected through images of leisure spaces (parks, vacation destinations, even the automobile-as-space). (In contrast, it is rather uncommon to see advertising treatments of all-temporal access by, say, listening to music at some very strange hour.) The spatial domain is signified by the base word where, which moors various formulations such as “everywhere,” “anywhere,” “wherever,” and “nowhere.” For example, the notion of being “miles from nowhere” that appears in a 1923 advertisement for the De Forest D-74 Radio (Figure 1.5) is striking. Here, the unlocated location (“nowhere”) specified in the ad is respatialized by allowing one to “keep in close touch with the rest of the world” (which is presumably “somewhere”). But if “miles from nowhere” is at one level an intensification of the notion of “anywhere,” it also suggests an extreme distance from human settlement and a degree of solitude within which one would be lost without the presence of the radio-as-companion.

Anytime, Anywhere? An Introduction to the Devices, Markets, and Theories of Mobile Music

Figure 1.5 “Miles from Nowhere.” De Forest D-74 Portable Radio advertisement, 1923. Used with the generous permission of Ludwig Edgarian.

Although “anytime, anywhere” finds itself employed in a wide variety of contexts, it often seems to suggest similar kinds of meanings: freedom, immediacy and consistency of access, and physical mobility. In the Edison advertisement the trope provides a clear (p. 17) incentive to the prospective buyer: if you purchase this device, you can take it with you, anywhere you go. The device is not just a playback machine; it serves as a traveling companion. Indeed, much of the marketing discourse for mobile musical devices emphasizes ease of travel and its relationship to portable music listening through various tropes. For example, a 1923 advertisement for a “Whiteland Portable Radio Receiving Set” highlights this variety, stating that the set can be used “In the home, on the trail, in the camp, at the seashore, on the water—anywhere.” And yet, travel is only one way of conceiving of the spatial traversals figured in mobile music advertisements. Just as crucial seems to be a sense that mobile music devices are capable of withstanding radically different environments, including hostile ones. An advertisement that appeared in the September 1947 issue of National Geographic for the Zenith Trans-Oceanic Portable enthusiastically claims

In your home or wherever you roam, there’s no thrill in radio like this New Zenith Trans-Oceanic Portable! Take it anywhere—it plays in remotest areas, below-zero (p. 18) cold, jungle heat. And it’s “tropic-treated” against humidity, radio’s greatest enemy. GUARANTEED to give perfect performance even under the worst of conditions!

Often, travel is depicted directly in these ads, which feature daytime jaunts or vacations to parks, campgrounds, beaches and other tourist and leisure spaces. If the thematics of leisure are central to the marketing portrayals of such devices, we needn’t look further than the suitcase gramophone for one of its earliest incarnations: the possibility of having a phonograph as part of a piece of luggage makes it both physically and socially mobile, capable of withstanding transportation and of being understood as a transportable item. On the physical side, we find that advertisements often treat the “anywhere” as a function of specific design and engineering features: the presence of handles (as discussed above); new housing cases that are especially sturdy; prominent reductions in size or weight; increases in battery life; and, for radios, antenna length/strength/sensitivity. Regarding the social, advertisements feature uses of devices in a wide variety of locales, effectively granting consumers permission or license to use them in places that they may not have appeared before, with some ads depicting single locations, and others representing a large number of places (often in separate panels). It is not hard to imagine advertisements as enlisting consumers in a process of changing social mores: Brown’s train-traveling wireless user can be, in this sense, understood as a kind of pioneer, expanding the territory or domain of the device’s use. The widening of social acceptability of device use and the physical portabilization of music devices, however, are not merely separate or separable aspects of what we might call the “mobile music process”—indeed, it is their intertwining that we ought to attend to. Perhaps the best, and presently most pervasive, example of this processual intertwining is to be found in headphone or earphone use. Headphones (in all their guises) have facilitated close-to-the-ear listening and have, in many senses, helped make mobile listening acceptable in a vast number of social contexts, although it might added that the “leakage” that sometimes emerges from too-loud headphone listening, especially in tight public spaces such as buses and subway cars, can be the source of strife. As ubiquitous as public usage of the headphone (or more recently, the earbud) has become, it too has an extensive history, one virtually coterminous with the long century of mobile music (see for example the headphoned radio listener in Figure 1.5). One particularly important stage of development in the headphone’s public normalization is found with the pocket transistor radio of the 1950s and 1960s. In this regard, a Western Radio advertisement that appeared in Popular Science in March 1957 for a pocket radio is telling:



Has special tiny, soft plastic almost invisible earplug—LETS YOU ALONE LISTEN ANYTIME, ANYWHERE without anyone else knowing you are hearing radio music, sports, news, weather, etc.

The mobile music process described above, of course, is not limited to its “anywhere” dimensions; as this “earplug” example tells us, listening increasingly happens at “anytime” (p. 19) as well. Although during the first part of the twentieth century, “anywhere” was conceptualized through the invocation of specific destinations (often far-off ones), there was, beginning with the advent of built-in car radios in the early 1930s and lightweight portable radios in the late-1930s, an expectation that listening could be done “on the move” or “on the go.” For example, in a 1940 Los Angeles Times ad, the Philco “Pal” portable radio was said to “double the thrills of your travels and outings,” because “you can play these brand new, smart, powerful Philco Portables anywhere—outdoors, at home or ‘on the go.’”

But while much mobile listening was vehicular—whether in cars or trains, or, as some advertisements state, in canoes or sail boats—the long century of mobile listening begins to include ambulatory listening by the end of the 1930s, and this was occasionally depicted in advertisements, such as one for an RCA Victor Pick-Me-Up radio set from 1939 showing a white teenage heterosexual couple—the girl carrying the radio, the boy a picnic basket—walking perfectly in step while listening to the music streaming from the radio’s speaker. In some ways, “on the go” was a descriptor not only of behavior but of people themselves, suggesting that a mobile lifestyle was bound up with portable music devices. Specifically, “on the go” refers not only to a way of living in which one is frequently traveling or in motion, but also to how one’s day, week, month, year, and life are carved up and planned out in coordination with such travel. In an article announcing RCA’s 1967 trade show in New York City, the business journalist Lawrence A. Armour noted that the new product line would emphasize “casual electronic entertainment” and would “feature portable phonographs for those who like their ‘music on the move,’ and portable radios for ‘people on the go’ and an array of black-and-white TV sets led by an eight-inch portable that works off everything from a battery pack to a cigaret [sic.] lighter” (Armour 1967:5). The notion of being “on the move” or “on the go” points to a broader problem of representing “anytime” listening, which, as we have already claimed, did not lend itself to advertising depictions nearly as easily as “anywhere,” outside of a presumed transmutation of time into space (i.e., multiple listening spaces or locales standing in for multiple listening times). Still images can, however, convey movement—especially those showing people walking with their radios, mid-stride, or listening while in an automobile, with their hair blowing back in the wind. Likewise, the common use of musical notation to graphically depict sound pouring out of speakers and devices activates these advertising images, expanding the horizon of their temporality to a duration longer than an instant. One could argue that this sense of movement portrayed in what are ostensibly static advertisements implies a passage through time as well as space and therefore conveys a temporal process and duration that could potentially encompass “anytime.” In other words, “anytime” can be understood as both a discrete moment and also a range of possibilities for when that moment occurs. By effectively animating a still image, showing how a consumer could arrive at any listening moment, an ad can represent “anytime” without doing so manifestly. Finally, if the process of movement and the depiction of on-the-go listening serve to represent an anytime-ness in an advertising scenario concretely devoid of most actual times of day—the typical daytime hour of the mobile music advertisement seems to be the bright midday or mid-afternoon sun—there is a similarly generalized character of the individuals in these advertisements, specifically that they seem to be monoaffectively happy and carefree. As such, depicted listeners appear jovial enough (p. 20) to represent the fun of mobile listening in a wide variety of spaces and/or during transit itself, and the uniformity of their affect seems to reveal these listeners as ready for fun-filled, music-accompanied activities at a moment’s notice or “anytime.”

Of course, mobile music listening is a much more complex affair than is depicted in advertisements, as rich with semiotic meaning and historical detail as they may be, and thus we must turn to other sources to find more nuanced examples of how the “anytime, anywhere” paradigm may have actually functioned in people’s lives. Examples of the microdetails of everyday mobile music listening can certainly be found in the printed press. Consider the use of the portable transistor radio in the 1950s and 1960s, for example. The sheer bizarreness of hearing portable sound sources emerging from transistor radios concealed in the pockets of passers-by did not go unregistered once such radios had been sufficiently miniaturized. “Three young ladies out for a stroll on West Forty-third Street turned their heads in amazement as the gentleman walked by, giving forth the tune ‘Ebb Tide.’ It was probably the first time the cry of the sea gulls had come out of a trench coat. The women looked again and again. They giggled” (Gould 1953). Attempts to improve reception were surely a large part of mobile radio experience, given the widely varying signal field in which listeners were immersed. “Going home the other night on the street car, we watched a couple of youngsters fooling around with a transistor radio. They were moving the rather expensive little gadget from the window sill of the car to the back of their seat, then holding it up in the air trying to get the best reception so they could listen to music without interference for their short ride” (Harrington 1958). The new listening ecologies of the transistor radio had corporeal effects too, changing the very gaits of urban dwellers. During the World Series between the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds in October 1961, the New York Times reported that fans “who were forced to tear themselves away from television or standard radio sets walked about Times Square contorted from fixed attention to transistor radios” (New York Times, 1961). In some instances, mobile music listening had more profound consequences, as was the case for policemen enforcing anti-integration orders from Alabama governor George Wallace during the Civil Rights Movement struggles of the 1960s. “Nine of the patrolmen, in blue uniforms and helmets, blocked the doorway of East Clinton as the first parents arrived. The policemen stared straight ahead. Some of them chewed gum. One listened to music on a transistor radio he had placed on a wall behind him” (Powledge 1963). Here, mobile music listening may have served to steel the nerves of an anxious officer, or it may have helped him to convey the nonchalance of state authority, providing additional force in the face of racially integrated groups of parents and students.

The last example points to an important and longstanding history of experience management through mobile music listening. Sociological studies by Michael Bull based on extended interviews with Walkman and iPod users (2000; 2007), often confirming Tia DeNora’s work on everyday music use (2000), capture many aspects of affective and experiential management through (mobile) music listening. One aspect of such listening surely includes the gifting of sequenced music tracks through mix tapes, mix CDs, and, more recently, playlists, which can offer powerful means of communicating and bonding within intimate relationships, including those experienced (p. 21) in mobile contexts and across long distances (Moore 2004:54). The question does, however, arise as to whether or not past experiences with older technologies (pre-WWII portable gramophones or radios) worked in similar ways, and we’d like to suggest that they may have, in fact. Two examples from the first quarter of the twentieth century point to a longstanding complexity in the historical experience of mobile music listening, if by no means capturing it in its totality. To illustrate this point, we might consider instances of someone using a portable music player out of place, which in part dramatizes the experience-management effect of mobile listening. Our first example, the tale of Wanda Hawley in the early 1920s, suggests a long history of mobile music listening by actors.

We have heard the Kreutzer Sonata many a time and oft, but never once has it inclined us to tears. Yet there are evidently lachrymal properties in it, if we may judge from some newspaper paragraphs headed “Tear Music for Film Stars.” We are told that “the sensitive young people who act for the pictures” now scientifically exploit the possibilities of music in this way. They declare themselves unable to reach emotional peaks without the stimulus of their pet “passion tune.” “Sadness from a Sonata” is the next caption, followed by:

Thus Wanda Hawley, the golden-locked U.S. star, told me that the melody she invariably employs to induce excessive sorrow is the Kreutzer Sonata. Wherever she travels Wanda’s indispensable tear music accompanies her in the form of a gramophone record and a tiny portable gramophone.

Our readers, Beethovenites especially, will be glad to know how the golden-locked Wanda uses this “melody”:

At the Gaumont Studios, during the week, she gave me ocular proof of her method. As she faced the camera for a pathetic scene for “The Lights o’ London,” Beethoven’s wailing notes murmured from the music box. Drinking in the dolorous tones the little actress shivered ecstatically. A moment later pearl-like tears—indisputably genuine—welled in Wanda’s eyes; the kinematographer softly turned the handle, and the touching scene was quickly completed.

(The Musical Times 1923:630)

Our second example involves treatments of the trench gramophone during World War I, in which mobile music was literally brought to the front lines—in trenches, fox-holes, or “dug-outs”—where it functioned as a kind of palliative and helped to mitigate the extreme effects of battle on soldiers. In particular, the musical strains of a recording could partly mask the traumatic sounds of gunfire, exploding ammunition, and military vehicles, or could provide positive affective resonances and/or reminders of home, aurally transforming a wartime space into a more comfortable, familiar, and perhaps even quasi-domestic one.

[Mr. Sims’] arrival with a portable gramophone on the evening in question had a very pleasant effect, though the first record with which he strove to deaden the sound of gunfire—‘When you come to the end of a perfect day’—might have been more happily chosen.

(Sharp 1917)

(p. 22) A WWI-era advertisement for the Decca portable gramophone, in fact, highlighted this possible use as one of the device’s selling points.

Ever noticed the effect of a Band upon men on the march? It’s wonderful. Seems to put new life into them, however tired they are. So with the “Decca” and men at the Front. On the wayside, in dug-out, camp or billet, however “fed up” or depressed the men may be, a tune or two on the “Decca” sets them smiling again.20

(Millard 2005:71)

These examples point to a marked form of experience management that creates continuities and comforts between disparate locations and spaces, and as such raise the question of how portable music could transform those spaces.21 In the earliest phases of the public presentation of recorded sound—say, in the public phonograph displays and parlors of the 1880s and 1890s in the United States (Suisman 2009:95)—the technology was likely to be understood as a kind of sonic spectacle, a feat to dazzle passers-by and customers (as many of these early phonographs were coin-operated). But as sound reproduction and broadcasting became increasingly domesticated, associated with the home, and incorporated into other household furnishings (the radio as “hearth” was a consistent metaphor), music recording and transmission transformed into a familiar comfort, something increasingly familial and even personal. The widest array of public and unfamiliar (often “virgin”) spaces could thereby be transformed through the presence of recorded or transmitted sound or both. In vehicles, radios and eventually cassette players would mask the noises of locomotion itself, which in the aggregate contributed to the growing din of urban life. Public outings or picnics accompanied by portable gramophones or radios could convert pastures and meadows into living rooms, realizing a new kind of comfortably pastoral experience. Transistor radios provided the ear-pieced listener at sporting events an experience similar to listening to a radio broadcast at home, the announcer providing play-by-play coverage in both environments. Michael Bull captures a crucial aspect of this dynamic in his work on the iPod, in which portable music “embodies a dialectical relationship between the desire for an ever-present intimate or personal connectivity and the impoverishment of the social and geographical environment in which it occurs” (2007:9). The newly pervasive experience of public headphone listening—with the stereophonic Walkman supplanting the monophonic earpiece of the portable transistor radio—individualizes this experience yet further, even if the specific character of that experience (sometimes claimed to be a “bubble”) has been debated (Beer 2007:846–866).

These shifting aural fields—or perhaps, better, their pluralization, since earlier ones have not been supplanted—raise an important qualification to our broader argument about the long history of mobile music. This history is obviously not an undifferentiated one. It includes internal breaks and markers defined by the historical specificities of listening technologies and concomitant practices, and these specificities are not, in the last instance, separable from the development and consumption of particular genres and aesthetic forms. With this in mind, we might outline two ways of thinking about mobile music’s long history. The first involves considering mechanical and (p. 23) especially electrical technologies that created a new, essentially epochal paradigm for music listening dependent upon the emergence of recorded sound, a paradigm that, in its broadest outlines, has remained in force for over a century. The second involves delineating an evental and conjunctural trajectory of specific technologies, devices, formats, delivery systems, markets, and sonico-musical forms, in the most recent manifestation of which the Internet has provided the most extreme possibilities for immediate, individualized listening ever realized hitherto, with access and continuity of experience being largely (if not always entirely) smoother, more vast, and more immediate than before. That late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century development is often understood through the term “convergence” (see Jenkins), but one of the important lessons of the synchronic history of mobile music is that it builds upon a much older expectation-horizon of being able to take your music with you that has, in part, driven more recent developments. In light of this, we might argue that while convergence is typically thought of as a collapsing of devices and networks, a relatively recent merging of digitization, broadcasting, and networked telecommunications, it is also more fundamentally a merging of temporal and spatial domains of listening (and media experience more generally).

On its surface, “anytime, anywhere” might seem to be glib advertising copy, but in a very real sense it points to a central dilemma or problematic within contemporary modernity. In many ways, it shares a kinship with a phrase like “24/7,” which on the one hand describes a kind of perpetual availability or activity but on the other hand, as Jonathan Crary notes, offers a useful way of thinking about the transformation of time under present-day capitalism, with sleep being the final frontier for colonization by capital. As he notes, “There are now very few significant interludes of human existence (with the colossal exception of sleep) that have not been penetrated and taken over as work time, consumption time, or marketing time” (Crary 2013:15). As we have argued elsewhere, the breakdown of the division between work, consumption, and marketing—which were once relatively distinct activities and temporalities—is a characteristic attribute of the neoliberal period, and mobile music listening is fundamentally bound up with that breakdown, creating continuities between labor, leisure, and audience-construction in ways unthinkable without the vast expansion of networked data-tracking and surveillance technologies (Gopinath and Stanyek 2013). For example, perpetual listening, increasingly possible through portabilization and miniaturization, helps to create continuities between these divisions of time: consider the worker who listens to headphoned mobile music at home, on a commute, at work, during work breaks, and then on the commute back home, and after, all the while transmitting their listening preferences into data networks. Indeed, the mobile music market (i.e., the rise of broadcast and recorded media, particularly its portable and transit-based aspects) may have been one of the earliest nearly perpetual inroads on leisure time, making it profitable, and hence served as a precursor to the contemporary world of “24/7.” (Of course, this happened gradually—radio broadcasts were rarely available around the clock until recent decades, and gramophone portability had limits we’ve already discussed.)

(p. 24) The lesson, however, that “anytime, anywhere” offers us is that this temporal breakdown is fundamentally a spatial one as well, with the networked world of the “projective city” dictating a form of perpetual availability that ultimately transforms all activity into work, even as it manifests 1960s-era ideologies of collaborative labor, subtly confusing work with leisure (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005). With the rise in telecommuting, facilitated by now-ubiquitous networking technologies, as well as the micropleasures of mobile entertainment (including mobile listening and gaming), work time need not be bound up with work spaces, and any space can, at a moment’s notice, be transformed into a leisure space. Perhaps more relevant for the analysis of social life in the 2010s, then, is the consideration of shifts in mode and activity, which rewrite seemingly self-evident spatiotemporal divisions as acts of will, whether of the user or the network itself. Crary has pointed to the “fleeting intuition” some have of “the disparity between one’s sense of limitless electronic connectedness and the enduring constraints of embodiment and physical finitude.” He goes on to say that, once upon a time, “such dislocating moments were generally restricted to the physical sites in which non-portable apparatuses were available. With increasingly prosthetic devices, these kinds of transitions occur anywhere, in every conceivable public or private milieu. Experience now consists of sudden and frequent shifts from absorption in a cocoon of control and personalization into the contingency of a shared world intrinsically resistant to control” (Crary 89). That sense of limitlessness, of the transcendence of finitude, may be the enduring hallmark of the utopian moment in capitalism itself, with its peculiar masses of abundance and availability, its commodities beckoning use for a price, contrasting so strikingly with imagined and real economies of scarcity. Appearing over a century ago and rising to a crescendo in the very recent past, “anytime, anywhere” offers one name for this kind of utopia and perhaps grants special validation for a mobile music studies.

Mobilizing Converters and Receptacles, or the Content-Form Division of Scholarly Labor

In the effective theorization of an imagined field that takes place within the contents of this volume, the question should be asked: what does not count as mobile music studies? To understand this more closely, an examination of a very different understanding of musical mobility is instructive. In Krister Malm’s 1993 essay, “Music on the Move,” the author focuses on the effects of mass media on the world’s musics, highlighting the familiar themes of cultural exchange (340), cultural dominance (342), cultural imperialism (342), and transculturation (343), as well as related notions of mediaization (344), transplantation (347), and renewal (349). Working out the various relations of musical-cultural hybridity in both familiar and unfamiliar terms, Malm clearly articulates many of the important themes treated in ethnomusicological studies of “world (p. 25) music” during the 1990s (339–352).22 Malm’s very fine essay (and others like it) can, however, also be examined in terms of the mobile elements within its theoretical model: in other words, what is exactly in motion in such a framework? A few elements stand out. As per the essay’s title, it is apparent that the primary moving phenomenon is music, particularly musical practices—effectively, particular ethno-regional, national, and international genres and styles—with mobility facilitated by technological and economic developments. This musical mobility results in a series of interactions between musical practices, some friendly and others conflictual. Nonetheless, the ground of stylistic mixing of these practices is the power relation between those practices, with asymmetries in power providing the conditions of possibility and the range of possible outcomes. Another important mobile element is music as a commodity, typically in the form of the sound recording (although modernized musical production practices are also thematized). In many examples, music travels across long distances in compact media forms—with cassettes being crucial during the 1980s and 1990s (Manuel 1993), sound files playing a profoundly important role in more recent times (Sterne 2012). A third mobile element might involve various populations, often theorized in terms of diaspora—Paul Gilroy’s “black Atlantic” being one especially important example (1993). Here, communities bring socio-musical practices with them, collectively, to new locations, in the process generating new ones or preserving traces of their sources or both (one might think here of the African diaspora as the central example).

To contrast this scholarly model with a proposed mobile music studies, we might point out that the essays included in this volume tend to focus less on music qua music—practices, styles, and genres (which are, however, more prominently featured in Volume Two, especially in terms of performance)—although they by no means ignore music altogether. Nonetheless, mobile music studies might seem to draw greater attention to the mobilization of converters and receptacles and the many ways they are and can be used. These mobilized elements are, however, not to be understood as “passive” but “active.” They are not mere vehicles or containers for “content”; rather, they play an important, if underappreciated role in shaping and defining musical and sonic experience. Mobilization, moreover, encompasses a range of design and usage practices that make it possible for music and sound to be conveyed, heard, and manipulated in shifting locales and in perpetuum mobile. The characteristics of mobile music studies as realized here might be understood as follows, in a rather provisional series of propositions.

  1. 1. Mobile music studies privileges the analysis of devices and their relationships to humans. More complex networks of relationships (such as those involving device–device–human relations) are as crucial as the dyadic dynamic posed above.

  2. 2. Mobile music studies attends to practices of listening, but it also pays close attention to multimediatic and intersensorial experience. Mobile music studies does not traffic in auditory exceptionalism (see Sterne 2003:10–19).

  3. 3. Mobile music studies downplays problems of musical style and genre, except in cases in which mobile music devices are explicitly thematized. Likewise, musical (p. 26) analysis and interpretation tend to be focused and limited, rather than being privileged.

  4. 4. Mobile music studies maintains an interest in music as a commodity, but it also examines in detail the markets and economies in which those commodities are positioned.

  5. 5. Mobile music studies likewise maintains an interest in the movement of human populations, and it seeks to reveal relationships between collectivities and mobile music devices. Populations also fold back into consumer demographics, critical for the economic issues raised above.

  6. 6. Mobile music studies follows in the tradition of everyday music studies (DeNora 2000; Crafts et al. 1993) and draws attention to the listener and user, as much as the musical/sonic producer. In its de-emphasis of formerly privileged producers, it is the product of a century of musical automation.

  7. 7. Mobile music studies’ focus on containers minimizes distinctions between music, sound, and noise. Mobile music studies is as much a mobile sound studies as anything else, but it also encroaches upon the study of language and communication (as sound). (See Sterne 2012:193–196.)

  8. 8. Many of mobile music studies’ concerns have been taken up in such disparate fields as communication studies, literary theory, history of science, disability studies, and performance studies (in addition to music studies and sound studies). Mobile music studies is an intersection of a number of already existing fields and areas of inquiry.

  9. 9. Mobile music has an expansive history, although in the sense understood here it is predominantly the most recent “long century” (the late 1800s to the early 2000s) that preoccupies its attention, with electrification being especially central to the development of musical mobility. Crucial in this history is the notion of mobilization, wherein listening technologies are made mobile in various ways and to varying degrees.

  10. 10. Mobile music is a global phenomenon, a series of uneven developments motivated by leading-edge technologies and commodities while not being reducible to them. Mobile music is not “world music,” although the two exist in a complicated relationship to one another.23

We won’t hesitate to point out that mobile music studies, as we and our collaborators have conceived it, is not a radical break with or denunciation of existing forms of musical scholarship. Indeed, our volumes are intended to document a recent scholarly trend, one that happily coexists alongside methodologies and approaches of longer provenance. But that coexistence and the relative division of scholarly labor—between the study of content and the study of form (as container)—seemingly encouraged by a mobile music studies raises the specter of how such practices may productively inform one another. As it stands, a number of critical issues remain underexplored within this volume, including questions of how existing styles and traditions have come to be experienced within the new mobile dispensation. In (p. 27) addition, methodologies developed in earlier studies of music—for example, musical/sonic transcription (of various sorts)—may attain a new relevance as a means of representing and interpreting experiences of listening beyond what can be expressed in prose or captured in field recordings.


As an experiment in reorganizing the categories of music and sound scholarship under the rubric of mobility (in the way described above), the present volume was constituted by the manifold inquiries offered by our contributors. The chapter groupings broke down most logically, in our view, into the following categories: (1) Theorizing Mobile Music (2) Mobility, Sound, and Communication (3) Devices That Listen (The Politics of Aurality) (4) Children, Adolescents, and Mobile Music Listening (5) Urban Ecologies and Politics, and (6) National Mobile Music Markets. Insights may be drawn from each of these concerning the realities of mobile music over the historical and geographical purview of this volume’s contributions. First, it seems self-evident—judging both from our own observations and those of our contributors—that mobile music is a contested and underspecified term. Seemingly opposed to an unmarked static or emplaced music, mobile music encourages different theorizations, different historical periodizations, and different interpretations of the musical/sonic, social, and economic facts on the ground. Grappling with myriad possibilities is crucial in the development of a new area of inquiry: indeed, among the most mobile of concepts may include, in recursive fashion, the mobile itself.24 Second, given the proximity of the mobile to the mobile phone, it is to be expected that work on mobile communications and sound would be well represented in the volume, although the range of approaches is not limited to (but also inclusive of) existing scholarly trends within mobile communication studies. Third, our emphasis on listening does not account for a crucial aspect of mobile music’s long history—namely, that humans are not the only listening agents in the network of relations constituting a mobile music system or environment. With bionic, prosthetic, and cyborgian possibilities enhanced through electrical and electronic technologies, devices could serve to enhance human listening or even co-listen with humans in a range of contexts. On the other hand, machinic listening can also be understood as part of a complex feedback process wherein devices become more “intelligent” and respond to consumers’ interests and needs, while further tethering them to a corporate surveillance system interested in maximizing its extractions of (surplus) value from users, often through the building of corporation-consumer relationships whose immediate (and often mystificatory) proxy is the device–human dyad.25 Fourth, the emphasis on children and youth in this volume is not accidental, given that any interest in new devices necessarily presents itself as a differential transformation of bodies and minds, of the detection of and engagement with device affordances, along generational lines. Moreover, mobile device cultures and mobile music seem at once to be associated with relatively younger cohorts (p. 28) (as for example in the characterization by Manuel Castells et al. of a “mobile youth culture” consisting of “projects of autonomy” structured around mobile communication) (2007:127–169, 145). Fifth, it seems undeniable that the wellsprings of mobile music have been the economic, technological, and geographical possibilities long concentrated disproportionately in urban (and, increasingly, suburban and secondary urban) centers. Urban soundscapes typically include a range of contributing and often-competing mobile sound sources—although one might profitably interrogate, for example, the relationships between mobile music and loci of deindustrialization. Sixth—and despite the often transnational and global scope of the processes just described in our previous five categories—the economies of mobile music (pricing, wages, size and number of firms, total revenue, large segments of value chains) are still mainly determined by individual nation-states and the legal and regulatory frameworks governing their operations. Hence, there is a great need for comparative studies that clarify geographic variability in the business strategies and ideological imperatives of national mobile music markets.

If the theoretical supports of an architecture of mobile music can be found in this volume and its companion publication, we would be loath to convey the misleading impression of comprehensivity. The world of mobile music, even as we understand it, is far too vast and complex to be contained in the following pages. Novel practices of musical mobility, historically important devices and media forms, and entire large geographical regions with possible local variants in mobile listening and experience are missing. The present scale of scholarship devoted to such matters is hardly commensurate with the range of possible objects of inquiry. It is our hope that such studies should be undertaken and that this volume will serve as an impetus for those tasks, even as a basis for thoroughgoing disagreement and critique. Because, in the end, and notwithstanding possible material resistances to the incursions of capital embodied in mobile music studies itself, the world has less of a need for yet another study of a canonical composer or songwriter than it does the systematic and critical exploration of proliferating and rapidly shifting phenomena demanding to be identified, mapped, and interpreted. But if there remains much work to be done, we also are keenly aware of the problems inherent to the founding of new scholarly projects—that is, that they are mere game pieces in the creation and contest of academic capital, buttressing a system under the strain of neoliberal redistributions of capital and perhaps, ultimately, the continuing long-term decline of productive capital accumulation itself. As such, we prefer to maintain modest and perhaps naively utopian ambitions for a mobile music studies: that it should, like Lenin’s “withering away of the state,” serve as a transitional mechanism for refocusing the attention of an array of talented, well-trained scholars onto the unnoticed and underappreciated dimensions of social life that make music, as we understand it, possible.


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(1) . Mosco (2004) offers some different implicit periodizations for the myth of the “digital sublime”—i.e., when the “technological sublime” turned to the digital as its newest horizon. In identifying its initial appearances he notes, “Well before the development of the personal computer, such mythic visions occupied the minds of computer enthusiasts. In the late 1960s, one author observed that computers were the latest technology to feed ‘the mythology of educational innovation’” (25). But elsewhere Mosco claims, “The vision of a post-industrial society, created in New York and literally cemented into the twin towers, grew into a powerful myth that helped define the city and the age. In the 1980s and the 1990s, with the arrival of global computer communication, post-industrialism broadened into a set of myths connecting cyberspace to the end of history, the end of geography, and the end of politics” (154). Our provisional dating places the “digital sublime” as roughly coinciding with the mass-popularization of personal computing and the earliest glimmerings of an Internet culture in limited (including academic) circles.

(2) . But see Jenkins (2006), who argues against the “black box fallacy” assuming the inevitability of gadget convergence (14–16).

(3) . For a lengthy study of the ringtone’s rise and fall, see Gopinath (2013).

(4) . Optimistic predictions of this sort are legion within the mobile entertainment industry and should be viewed skeptically, as well as understood as being a part of the cynical hype that acts in the interest of the industry itself (attracting venture capital, etc.).

(5) . It merits mention that an older sociological field known as “social mobility studies” long predates the new mobility studies and focuses primarily on class mobility. See, for example, Miller (1971:62–65). One might even make a distinction between “mobility studies” and “mobilities studies.” Separate scholarly journals for mobility studies now exist, including Mobilities, Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies, and Wi: Journal of the Mobile Digital Commons Network. Publishers have likewise developed entire book series trained on or intersecting with mobility studies (including Ashgate’s Transport and Society series and Routledge’s Contemporary Geographies of Leisure, Tourism, and Mobility series). Moreover, research networks and centers of mobility studies have emerged in recent years including the Cosmobilities Network (Europe), Centre for Mobilities Research (Lancaster University), the Mobilities Research and Policy Center (Drexel University), and the Centre for Mobility and Urban Studies (Aalborg University, Denmark); related research centers include the CyLab Mobility Research Center (Carnegie Mellon University), which focuses on the development of mobile devices and technologies, and the Center for Mobile Communications Studies (Rutgers University).

(6) . There are a few exceptions, although even these pay little attention to sound or music per se. See, for example, Tironi (2012:185–210). At least one book-length music-centered study explicitly claims a connection to mobility studies: Mjøs (2012).

(7) . Apple’s server farm has been the cause of some controversy, located in an area of North Carolina with very high unemployment and offering relatively few positions. See Ong (2011).

(8) . Interestingly, the reviewer uses the term “mobile” in two interrelated senses, both to describe the music’s fugitive complexity (as shown above) and to characterize its viable distributability via gramophone, as found in an underappreciated but strong composition rarely heard in concert. McNaught writes, “In coming to [the work’s] rescue, the Decca company earns another pat on the back for its knight-errantry, or perhaps its foresight. It has been discovered before that even if nobody is willing to play a work hundreds may be willing to listen to it—hundreds scattered all over the country who could never come together in a concert-hall but nevertheless form a repaying gramophone public. Bliss’s sonata seems made for this kind of audience. It has none of the characteristics that please the ordinary chamber-music gathering, but is full of good things for those who can listen with both ears and listen all the time. It is particularly mobile music” (198).

(9) . Hosokawa’s article and Japanese-language monograph represent some of the earliest and most significant efforts within what would become a scholarly deluge on the Walkman, including work by Chris Hardman (1983), Rainer Schönhammer (1989), Paul du Gay, et al. (1997), and Michael Bull (2000), among others. Andrew Williams’s Portable Music and Its Functions (2007) includes a bibliography and critical treatment of scholarship on portable music players (particularly the Walkman). Focusing on perhaps the most iconic mobile music listening device, the Walkman literature can be taken as a synecdoche of a much larger mobile music studies, many contributors to which are included in this text and its companion volume.

(10) . See the glossary in Hutchison, Allen, and Macy’s Record Label Marketing (2009) for a definition of “mobile music” that is particularly tethered to the emergence of the mobile phone: “Music that is downloaded to mobile phones and played by mobile phones. Although many phones play music as ringtones, true ‘music phones’ generally allow users to import audio files from their PCs or download them wirelessly from a content provider” (331).

(11) . Such an understanding of the notion and experience of portability certainly does not encompass the entirety of mobile music’s history, which can be said to take place at different times and in different ways all over the world. Indeed, only recently have locations in developing countries become unprecedentedly suffused with portable sound media (on account of the mobile telephone). Nonetheless, this critical aspect of mobile music’s development has ramifications beyond the specific discursive and regional problematic under consideration in this chapter.

(12) . See the following websites discussing the Philco Hip Pocket record player at (accessed August 3, 2012), and the Americom Pocket Disc player at (accessed August 3, 2012).

(13) . For example, the history of the use of music in vehicular sound systems depends not so much on their miniaturization but on the expansion of their power over the course of the twentieth century and beyond. Moreover, the development of longer-lasting and rechargeable power sources (as well as the use of devices like portable generators) also contributes to portability without necessarily being tied to miniaturization per se (although such technologies were frequently used in tandem with others relying on miniaturization).

(14) . Also see Hintz (2009:24–57).

(15) . See also Wurtzler (2008:169–173).

(16) . McLuhan’s contrast between “services” and the “environment” is a simpler version of the kind of relationship we’re thinking of here. “So ‘the medium is the message’ is not a simple remark, and I’ve always hesitated to explain it. It really means a hidden environment of services created by an innovation, and the hidden environment of services is the thing that changes people. It is the environment that changes people, not the technology” (2003:225–226).

(17) . Unpublished during his lifetime, Adorno worked on drafts of the manuscript in his limited English while in exile in the New York in the late 1930s and working with Paul Lazarsfeld under the auspices of the Princeton Radio Research Project. The project resulted in a book manuscript that was rejected by Oxford University Press (one of a few attempts at salvaging this work); throughout his life, he remained attached to the material despite being unsatisfied with it. See Robert Hullot-Kentor’s introduction to Adorno (2009:1–40).

(18) . Anders’ work has been resuscitated recently. See Erlmann (2010:309–319); Mowitt (2011:39).

(19) . Forlano’s study, based in part on a series of Lexis-Nexis keyword searches, demonstrates the use of the phrase “anytime, anywhere” and variants as growing significantly over the 1990s. (Her 2007 keyword searches turned up over 1000 instances of the phrase.) She also identifies uses of the phrase or variants dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, but as we demonstrate, the term has a much longer history associated specifically with mobile music technologies.

(20) . The practice of battlefield listening seems to have continued during WWII as well. In 1956, The Manchester Guardian reported a 1944 encounter between a German doctor and an Irish paratrooper: “While a battle was going on only a few miles away, a German medical officer took his portable gramophone to the bedside of a prisoner-of-war, a badly wounded paratrooper, whose life he had saved. They sat together and listened to their favourite record, Handel’s ‘Largo.’” (The Manchester Guardian, 5).

(21) . In relation to this, see DeNora’s work on mood management via music in her Music in Everyday Life (2000:46–61).

(22) . Comparable studies include Mark Slobin’s Subcultural Sounds (1993) or Steven Feld and Charles Keil, Music Grooves (1994), among many others.

(23) . We should also consider Georgina Born’s “relational musicology,” whose two pillars are connecting music and the social/cultural (widening what counts as “music”) and eliminating boundaries around which musics can profitably studied. A mobile music studies is so obviously located within the social/contextual that it needn’t fetishize them—indeed, certain new formalisms could even emerge (the formalisms of the body–device relationship, or those of mobile listening practices) and interact productively with historical, social, and cultural contexts/phenomena, etc. Moreover, mobile music studies’ focus on converters and receptacles, or vehicles for the conveyance and storage of sound and music, makes moot any concerns that some music or another is disallowed from study or diminished in scholarly viability. It follows that many of the points Born makes (such as not advocating for a particular musical practice/style, as is typical of music studies) are found in mobile music studies (2010:208–209, 217).

(24) . One of the important theoretical figures for (and, one might say, patron saints of) conceptual mobility is Gilles Deleuze, particularly in his work with Félix Guattari. See Patton (2006:27–45).

(25) . Our work on the Nike+ Sport Kit and the politics of athletic capitalism within a broader “experience economy” and system of corporate surveillance provides one attempt to better understand this specific aspect of feedback within the present, metastasized mobile musical economy. See Gopinath and Stanyek (2013).