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date: 05 July 2020

New Keys to the World of Sound

Abstract and Keywords

Sound is no longer produced only by humans and nature. New sources of sound such as the iPod and cell phones demonstrate that sounds have become personal and mobile. New sounds such as those of industrialization, automobile engine, and electronic sounds have entered the “soundscape”. Sounds can be captured in new ways, which are becoming a part of everyday life. The consequences of all of this are vast. Sound becomes more materially mediated in a whole host of novel ways, it becomes more “thinglike”, a means in itself to sell and market goods, the field of media studies has made a significant contribution to sound studies and fields of art studies, musicology, and ethnomusicology have recently widened their scope to include some sound studies resulting in the shift of interests of students from classical to popular music. All this offers a radical challenge for the future.

Keywords: sound, soundscape, iPod, cell phones, thinglike, music, sources of sound

1. Introduction

We were sitting in the Tudor Arms, Stockholm, recently voted as “the best British pub in the world”—outside of Great Britain. With oak-paneled walls, wooden beams, nooks and crannies, warm beer, and special British culinary delights such as steak and mushroom pie, the Tudor Arms is a perfect emulation of a pub. We were with two friends, Thomas and Otto, one Swedish, one German. The discussion was getting heated; the topic was the SoundEar.

The SoundEar is a special device found in many kindergartens in Scandinavia. It is a box that displays an outline ear with green glowing LEDs that can be attached to a classroom wall. The SoundEar measures sound.1 When the noise in the classroom is at or below a predetermined level, the ear glows green. When the noise reaches 10 decibels above this level, the inner part of the ear glows amber; if the noise continues at this level or above for longer than ten seconds, the ear will glow red. The kids have been warned: Be quiet!

Otto had encountered this device when his child first entered Swedish kindergarten. He had noticed that the kids had shut up as soon as the ear turned amber. For Otto, who was used to rowdy German kids and their teachers’ use of more traditional means of keeping order, it was a telling example of the difference between Swedish and German society. In public places the Swedes liked to be “civilized.” Even on the train home to the suburbs of Stockholm, where he lived, he had observed older school kids monitoring the behavior of younger kids and telling (p. 4) them to pipe down if they were too loud. Thomas quietly asserted that Otto was missing the point. The SoundEar was a safety device that had been introduced into all Swedish schools by the caring state to protect the hearing of school employees. This attention to noise in the workplace was actually a sign of Swedish progressiveness. Of course, it might be a means of discipline, but Thomas pointed out that this is what hard hats at a building site do and surely Otto wouldn’t want more head injuries. Otto wasn’t buying this argument, however. He claimed that the kids at first took no notice of the SoundEar and that their natural inclination was just to talk louder as their excitement rose. Thomas conceded that the SoundEar sometimes didn’t work properly or was switched off in the realization that teachers sometimes just couldn’t stop the kids from being kids. As Otto and Thomas argued, we realized that the pub had become almost silent; everyone was looking our way. The Tudor Arms was a perfect emulation of a British pub except for one thing. In Britain the noise gets louder as the evening wears on and more and more beer is consumed. In Sweden that crescendo never comes!

We wondered, was this the future of pubs? Once the pub would have been full of cigarette smoke; now pubs everywhere (except for Berlin, as Otto proudly pointed out) are smoke free. Will new laws and policies eventually be enacted to control sound in public spaces? Will one day machines like the SoundEar glow everywhere? And the SoundEar is starting to glow in other places. The largest market for sales is hospitals in the United States. Patients who are coming out of anesthesia are especially sensitive to sound. Furthermore, as Hillel Schwartz points out in this volume, hospitals, which were once islands of silence, are getting noisier and noisier, and one of the major contributors to the increased cacophony are technologies, whether the humming of ventilators or the beeping of monitoring equipment. The SoundEar helps maintain a quiet environment for certain patients. Researchers are also exploring the use of the SoundEar during surgery: It has been claimed that a percentage of surgical error arises from unwanted noise in the operating room.

This true story2 of our encounter with the SoundEar captures some of the main themes in this book. Modernity has brought about developments in science, technology, and medicine and at the same time increasingly new ways of producing, storing, and reproducing sound. Sound is no longer just sound; it has become technologically produced and mediated sound. This allows it to be more easily transformed, or “transduced,” the term used by some of the authors in this book. Transduction turns sound into something accessible to other senses. The SoundEar turns sound into sight. Of course, we should not forget (as Jonathan Sterne and Mitchell Akiyama point out in their chapter), that the human ear itself is a transducer, turning sound into vibrations that then become nerve impulses that are registered in the brain. Yet now that technologies of transduction are everywhere, we would like to foreground their appropriation and consequences in science, society, and culture as important topics for study.

Sound is no longer produced only by humans and nature, for machines roar everywhere and technologies not only measure sound in a myriad of new ways but also produce and emulate sounds, such as in video games and movies. New sources (p. 5) of sound such as the ubiquitous iPod and cell phones demonstrate that sounds have become personal and mobile. New sounds—never heard before, such as the sound of industrialization, the gasoline engine of the automobile, and electronic sounds—have entered what Murray Schafer has so felicitously called “the soundscape” (Schafer 1994/1977).

Sounds can be captured in new ways, such as with the parabolic microphone used to record bird sound, and stored in new ways, such as with the first such device, the recently rediscovered phonoautograph, and the better-known phonograph, which is used not only for music but also as a new scientific tool for the science of ethnology. Sounds that could not be heard before can now be heard for the first time, such as the sound of atoms, which lies at the heart of the newly invented scanning probe microscope, one of the key instruments of the new field of nanotechnology. Digital technologies today provide ever-new ways of storing, manipulating, and transferring sound and music. The recording of music has been transformed (and is still transforming) what it means to make and experience music. Sounds can be reproduced in new sorts of places, such as under water. The establishment of a whole new science of sound—acoustics—has led to new instruments, new ways of measuring, conceptualizing, and controlling sound, and new contributions to music. With the development of the new field of acoustical architecture, buildings and rooms can be specially designed for their sound qualities (Thompson 2002). We interact with sound in new ways. Scientists turn to sonification—innovative technologies and techniques for rendering scientific data into sound.

However, new ways of interacting with sound are also part of everyday life. Consider, for instance, the humble radio dial, which for many people at the dawn of radio opened up a global world accessible only by sound. One of the more significant advances in the history of medicine has come through sound. The ability to listen to the body via the stethoscope provides doctors a powerful new means of diagnosis (Lachmund 1994, 1999). In modern terms, the stethoscope enables them to do an “audification” of bodily phenomena. Sound continues to transform medicine through technologies such as ultrasound (Casper 1998). Novel forms of hearing aid that directly stimulate the brain mean that deaf people can almost miraculously start to hear again.

The consequences of all of this are vast. Sound becomes more materially mediated in a whole host of newfangled ways. Sound becomes more “thinglike”—a commodity to be bought and sold on iTunes, a thing to be worn, as with personal stereos. Sound becomes a means in itself to sell and market goods. Sound can not only be listened to but also be measured, regulated, and controlled (Thompson 2002; Bijsterveld 2008). It can even become an important part of political dissent as with subversive listening to the radio and making of tapes in former Communist countries, which Trevor Hagen and Tia DeNora discuss in this volume.

For us, science, technology, and medicine are the keys to unlock these new worlds of sound. Science, technology, and medicine do not only—intentionally or unintentionally—create novel sources of sound but also provide us with innovative (p. 6) tools for using sound and theories about it. Which sounds have been produced, captured, stored, and transferred by science, technology, and medicine? By which means? How have society and culture appropriated these sounds and means, and how have scientists, engineers, and doctors themselves listened to the objects, machines, and bodies they study—with or without the help of sonic equipment?

These questions have informed our decision to organize the twenty-three chapters that make up this handbook around the different sorts of places where sound is experienced. Some of these are the exemplary sites of science, technology, and medicine, such as the laboratory, the test site, the design studio, and the clinic. Such sites are populated by experts, test subjects, and carefully monitored patients and objects. The other sites we have chosen—the workshop, the field, the home—are much more open and accessible to nonexperts. By stressing this we do not mean to say that “society and culture” are not to be found in labs and clinics, unlike in fields and homes, but that different sites have different gatekeepers and that this affects how sounds are listened to, talked about, and given meaning. In the earlier sections these sites tend to be well-defined circumscribed environments, but in the later sections, particularly sections VI and VII, we encounter more diffuse environments. Section I deals with how machine sounds are encountered on the shop floor and at the test site. Section II covers what we call the field, including the ocean, and Section III covers the laboratory. Section IV takes the clinic as its location, and Section V the design studio. Section VI focuses mainly upon the home but also includes karaoke bars, clubs, concert halls, and Internet cafés. Section VII is the most diffuse in terms of location as it focuses upon digital storage of sound, and, of course, as such devices become ever smaller they can be played back in a myriad of places. In addition, as the titles of our sections suggest, we explore how at these sites sounds have been reworked (literally and metaphorically), staged, spoken for, edited, consumed, and moved from one place to another. We stress, however, that this ordering does not preclude alternative routes through our volume. You can work through the chapters in order or dip in and out on your own self-directed journeys through sound.

2. Now That Sound Is in the Air

Our focus on science, technology, and medicine as the keys to unlock the worlds of sound unsurprisingly helped to attract authors with a background in the history and sociology of technology and science, as well as in science and technology studies (STS). Nonetheless, we could not have made this book without contributions from scholars who are working on the history of the senses, cultural history, anthropology of medicine and the body, media studies, film studies, game studies, and musicology.

At the same time, we do not claim that this book fully covers “sound studies.” In 2004 we defined sound studies as “an emerging interdisciplinary area that studies (p. 7) the material production and consumption of music, sound, noise, and silence and how these have changed throughout history and within different societies” (Pinch and Bijsterveld 2004: 636). Although we still endorse this definition, the word emerging may now be slightly too modest. Sound studies has become a vibrant new interdisciplinary field with many different, yet often overlapping, strands. Among the areas involved are acoustic ecology, sound and soundscape design, anthropology of the senses, history of everyday life, environmental history, cultural geography, urban studies, auditory culture, art studies, musicology, ethnomusicology, literary studies, and STS. New fields of study always come with competing definitions of what should be studied, and sound studies is no exception. Each strand conceptualizes its topic and thus the reality it constructs as its proper subject in slightly different ways.

Acoustic ecology has its roots in the environmental concerns of the late 1960s and the 1970s. In those years Raymond Murray Schafer, Barry Truax, and Hildegard Westerkamp established their World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. Their approach was and still is a highly original mix of raising environmental awareness of “our sonic environment and the tuning of the world,” mapping past and present soundscapes, endorsing psychoacoustic research that reaches beyond the individual, and contributing to a higher-quality sonic environment through composition and sound design (Schafer 1967, 1969, 1977, 1994/1977; Truax 1978, 2001; Westerkamp 1974). Their allies and heirs are to be found among today’s innumerable projects that record and play the soundscapes of contemporary cities or intervene in such soundscapes by adding sound art. In addition, their work has been cited and paraphrased so often that a notion like soundscape as sonic environment, area of aural study, or composition is now the sole focus of publications that trace its roots, discuss its merits and shortcomings, and elaborate on alternative definitions (for an excellent overview see Kelman 2010).

Closely related to acoustic ecology are the emerging fields of soundscape design and sound design. While soundscape design is dominated by architects and sound artists (Arkette 2004; Augoyard and Torgue 2005; Martin 1994; LaBelle and Roden 1999), sound design is largely the domain of engineers, designers, and marketers (Langemaier 1993; Özcan Vieira 2008). Such sound designers measure the sound-level emission of a consumer good, attempt to curtail or silence its noise, add specifically designed sound to it, study the perception of these sounds, and design the sound of media products such as films or video games (Collins 2008; Grimshaw and Whittington, this volume). Acoustic ecology and soundscape and sound design together have been the feeder disciplines for imaginative interdisciplinary sound studies programs. The sound studies research and education activities coordinated by Berlin cultural theorist Holger Schulze are an example of this new alignment. In his work the theory and history of auditory culture, which draws on acoustic ecology and historical anthropology, are combined with experimental sound design—including sound art—sonic branding, and audio production. It explicitly incorporates a “new materialism” that studies sound as both technical-physical (p. 8) emanation and artistic-aesthetical imagination, and as a “tangible and rich subject of our experience, feelings and thoughts” (Schulze 2008, 11; Spehr 2009). This strand of research thus overlaps with more positivistic approaches to sound studies. Sonic interaction design, for instance, focuses on the “exploitation of sound as one of the principal channels conveying information, meaning, and aesthetic/emotional qualities in interactive contexts.” It combines an interest in interaction design with the auditory display of information, “sound modeling,” sound perception, cognition and emotion, and sound and music computing.3

Without the interactive media available today, such initiatives would not have been possible, and it is therefore not surprising that the field of media studies has made a significant contribution to sound studies. Yet, while sonic interaction design starts out in perception psychology and the communication sciences, most of this work in media studies is firmly rooted in the humanities, qualitative sociology, and cultural studies. This is true for the more historically oriented works on sound and media technologies such as the phonograph, gramophone, telephone, tape recorder, and radio (Badenoch 2008; Douglas 1999; Fickers 1998; Fischer 1992; Gitelman 1999, 2003; Haring 2008; Katz 2004; Morton 2000; Schiffer 1991; Weber 2008). It is also true for the contributions by sociologists and media theorists on the meaning and use of both these older and the more contemporary sound, media, and communication technologies such as the Walkman, iPod, cell phone, and film (Agar 2003; Alderman 2001; Birdsall and Enns 2008; Bull 2000, 2007; Goggin 2006; Lastra 2000; Sterne 2003; Wurtzler 2007). Indeed, several of these authors, who often combine an interest in media studies with the history of technology, are included in the present volume.

The World Soundscape Project has been rightfully credited for coining the word soundscape and putting sound studies on the map. One should not forget, however, that without the silent assistance of long-standing scholarly traditions such as the anthropology of the senses, the Annales school of history, cultural history, environmental history, and musicology, the study of sound and soundscapes might have had a much more problematic reception in the humanities (see also Smith 2010). The studies of the smells and sounds of everyday French life by Annales historian Alain Corbin not only brought the most intangible aspects of our past to the attention of historians and others but also contributed to the notion that modes of listening and other sensory experiences are as historically variable as many other aspects of life (Corbin 1986/1982, 1995, 1999). Cultural histories of reading, speech, and sound sensitized our knowledge about who was allowed (or not allowed) to speak or to make sounds and when and where this occurred (Bailey 1996; Burke 1993; Cockayne 2007; Johnson 1995; Payer 2006; Picker 2003; Rath 2003; B. Smith 1999; M. Smith 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004; Rée 1999). Environmental historians did a similar yet more governance-oriented job by tracking down the rise of noise abatement regulation (Coates 2005; Smilor 1980; Saul 1996a, 1996b), while cultural geography and urban studies have informed us about the spatial distribution of noise and its political implications (Rodaway 1994; Revill 2000). Studies by anthropologists and historians on the hierarchy, meaning, and employment of the senses (p. 9) in different societies substantiated arguments for cultural differences in sensory experience (Classen 1997; Parr 2001; Stoller 1989). With a journal (The Senses and Society) and introductory volumes (Howes 2005; Jütte 2005; M. Smith 2007), sensory studies is now an established field in its own right. These introductory volumes include studies of “auditory culture” (Bull and Back 2003) and “hearing cultures” (Erlmann 2004) and feed into museum exhibits on the history and ethnography of sound and noise (Gonseth 2010; Smith, this volume).

The fields of art studies, musicology, and ethnomusicology have recently widened their scope to include some sound studies. This probably reflects the shifting interest among students from classical music to popular music and from the skills necessary for playing traditional musical instruments to those involved in electronic and digital recording, as well as sampling, composing, and consuming music (DeNora 2000; Kahn 1992, 1999; Kraft 1996; Kelly 2009; Lysloff and Gay 2003; Perlman 2004; Greene and Porcello 2005; Théberge 1997; Schmidt-Horning 2004; Stadler 2010; Chanan 1995; Taylor 2001). Perhaps as a sign of the times, the Department of Music and Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University in 2009 organized a conference, “Listening In/Feeding Back: Listening and the Circulation of Sound Media,” which brought together scholars from sound studies and the more traditional fields of musicology and ethnomusicology. Moreover, the rise of recording has stirred a subspecialty within musicology that has been coined phonomusicology: the study of recorded music (Cottrell 2010, 15; Philip 2004; Day 2000).

Close neighbors of ethnomusicology and phonomusicology are new musicology and radical musicology, which have fully digested cultural studies approaches (Rodgers 2010). Often such work also refers to more literary approaches to sound. Literary studies examine the ways that literary writers textualize sound, hearing, and listening, express the sounds of their times, imbue sound with meaning, and evoke noise (for an overview see Bernhart 2008). Some of their publications center on textualized sound in experimental poetics, poetry performances, and poetry (Morris 1997). Others analyze references to specific forms of hearing and listening in literary texts, such as eavesdropping (Gaylin 2002) or mishearing (Connor 2009)—although Connor’s humorous talk on mishearing reaches far beyond literature. Highly insightful are the studies that unravel expressions of sound in Shakespearean theater (Folkerth 2002) and in twentieth-century plays (Meszaros 2005), as well as textualizations of noise in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary texts. Michael Cowan (2006), for instance, has written wonderfully on Rainer Maria Rilke’s resistance to worldly noise. and Philipp Schweighauser (2006) intelligently unravels the noises of naturalist, modernist, and postmodernist American literature in his “history of literary acoustics.”

Textualization of sound is again a transformation of one sensory experience into another. This and the rise of sensory studies might lead to the question whether one sense—hearing—deserves its own field and indeed its own handbook, but this would be to misconstrue the senses involved in sound studies. Although sensory studies in general has contributed to the rise of sound studies and sound studies is (p. 10) clearly part of sensory studies, we feel that sound studies, especially when taken in the direction of science, technology, and medicine, raises a far wider range of issues. We have already pointed out that as sound becomes more materially embedded, it becomes mediated by many senses, including seeing and touch. It is exactly this relationship between the material embedding and multisensory mediation of modern sound that intrigues us and has led to our key questions.

Sound studies thus is a flourishing interdisciplinary area with several overlapping disciplines and a range of methods that touch upon the fields of acoustic ecology, sound design, urban studies, cultural geography, media and communication studies, cultural studies, the history and anthropology of the senses, the history and sociology of music, and literary studies. We are not the first authors to tie in some of these wider concerns with the specific fields of history and sociology of science and technology and STS. Hans-Joachim Braun, a historian of technology, has long been an advocate of studying music and sound technologies within the context of the history of technology and has organized many sessions on such themes at international meetings of the history of technology. This development led to Braun’s important edited collection, “I Sing the Body Electric”: Music and Technology in the 20th Century (Braun 2000, 2002). Emily Thompson, another scholar whose roots lie in the history of technology, has shown in her authoritative book, The Soundscape of Modernity (Thompson 2002), how the science and practice of acoustical architecture developed in parallel with twentieth-century concerns and changes in technology and how sound was experienced. Jonathan Sterne, a scholar from media studies, draws upon STS in his important book, The Audible Past, which deals with how, in the twentieth century, listening changed in concert with technologies such as the telegraph and the stethoscope (Sterne 2003).

Our own interest in sound studies should also be mentioned here. One of us, Trevor Pinch, stumbled into the field in the course of writing his book on the history of the Moog electronic music synthesizer (Pinch and Trocco 2002). Pinch, a professor of science and technology studies who has a background in the sociology of science and technology, was initially interested in linking STS to music and held sessions called “STS Faces the Music” at an international science studies conference at Bielefeld, Germany, in 1996, in which Karin Bijsterveld also participated. Eventually Pinch teamed up with Bijsterveld to pursue this theme in research on musical instruments (Pinch and Bijsterveld 2003) and with a special issue of Social Studies of Science: “Sound Studies: New Technologies and Music,” published in 2004. Pinch first taught a course in sound studies at Cornell University in 2004, while Bijsterveld started a course called Sound Technologies and Cultural Practices at Maastricht University the same year. She has a background in history, musicology, and STS and has contributed to the history of noise with Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture, and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century (Bijsterveld 2008), our knowledge of the everyday use of audio technologies with Sound Souvenirs: Audio Technologies, Memory, and Cultural Practices (Bijsterveld and Van Dijck 2009), and our understanding of acoustic cocooning in the car (Bijsterveld 2010).

(p. 11) 3. Listening for Knowledge

The new audio technologies discussed in this book, such as the phonograph, gramophone, radio, cassette player, and digital audio equipment, have not only drawn on earlier instruments used in science, engineering, and medicine but also contributed to the processes of knowledge creation in these fields (Brady 1999; Kursell 2008; Stangl 2000). Such contributions have never been self-evident, however.

If there is any field that is associated with seeing rather than with hearing, it is science. Scholars who emphasize the visual bias in Western culture even point to science as their favorite example. Because doing research seems impossible without using images, graphs, and diagrams, science is—in their view—a visual endeavor par excellence. Historians and sociologists of science have recently corrected this claim by showing how senses other than seeing, including listening, have been significant in the development of knowledge, notably in the laboratory. They stress that scientific work involves more than visual observation. The introduction of measurement devices that merely seem to require the reading of results and thus seeing has not ruled out the deployment of the scientists’ other senses. On the contrary, scientific work in experimental settings often calls for bodily skills, one of which is listening. We’ll come back to these views later. The world of science itself, however, still considers listening a less objective entrance into knowledge production than seeing. Why?

One of the aims of our book is to offer readers a better understanding of this contested position of sonic skills—by which we mean listening skills and the skills needed to employ the tools for listening—in knowledge production. Several contributors to this handbook focus specifically on the role of sound and listening in science, technology, and medicine. This includes fields that have acoustic phenomena as their exclusive topic and domains that examine other subjects with the help of sound. Most of these contributions focus on the period from the 1920s on, thus taking the rise of recording technologies into account. Our readers can find these contributions in the first four sections of our book, which focus on listening on shop floors and at test sites, in the field, in labs, and in clinics, respectively. While Stefan Krebs, Eefje Cleophas, and Karin Bijsterveld unravel the listening practices of engineers and mechanics, Joeri Bruynincks, Julia Kursell, Myles Jackson, Cyrus Mody, and Alexandra Supper discuss those of scientists, and Tom Rice and Mara Mills those of physicians. Moreover, Stefan Helmreich and some of the authors just mentioned also show what artists take from scientists when dealing with sound.

Three questions in particular are of concern here.4 The first is how scientists, engineers, and physicians have employed their ears in making sense of what they have studied. How did they listen to the objects, machines, and bodies they studied? What tools did they use? And how did they acquire their sonic skills? The second question is how such listening practices, regardless of whether or not mediated by recording and amplification technologies, have generated new scientific knowledge, technological designs, and medical devices. In short, did listening elicit new (p. 12) questions and findings in these fields, and if so, what kind of listening? The final and most crucial question is why listening has nonetheless remained contested and still lacks the same legitimization given to other means of knowing. In other words, under which conditions have sonic skills been accepted as an “objective’’ means of inquiry alongside visual ones in science, engineering, and medicine? In some cases, why have visual skills partially replaced sonic skills? Why, for instance, is “sonification,” that is, the auditory (in contrast to the visual) display of scientific data still deeply contested today?

These questions have almost naturally evolved from a particular set of issues predominating the historiography of the senses and STS for quite some time. To many scholars, as we have already suggested, science is the most telling example of the visual orientation of Western culture (Attali 1985; Berendt 1985). To the indignation of such scholars, even acousticians illustrate their work with slides and charts rather than with sounds (Schafer 1994/1977). Others claim that the numerous visual metaphors for knowing in Western languages (“Yes, I see”) proves the visual bias of Western culture (Tyler 1984). Comparisons with cultures that have epistemologies based on alternative sensory orientations, such as auditory ones, rhetorically underline this argument (Feld 2003).

For many years, the discussion boiled down to the issue of when, exactly, Western culture had turned from privileging hearing to preferring sight. Did it occur with the rise of print (Bailey 1996)? Yet Constance Classen has claimed that the standard ranking of the senses in Western culture, in which sight occupies the highest position, preceded print culture by many centuries (Classen 1997). Furthermore, other scholars have stressed the continuing significance of sound for people’s everyday spatial and symbolic orientation in modern times (Corbin 1999, Bull and Back 2003). As Jonathan Sterne has clarified, the search for an overall shift in the sensory selectivity of the West unjustly assumed that the history of the senses should be “a zero-sum game, where the dominance of one sense by necessity leads to the decline of another sense” (Sterne 2003, 16). Consequently, many academics today argue instead for a “perceptual equilibrium” that has been present since at least the later medieval period (Woolf 2004).

For a long time, however, the idea that modern science is a visual affair remained undisputed. The big picture was that profound changes in natural philosophy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—including the new reliance on observation and experiment as legitimate sources of knowledge, as well as the growing importance of print as a vehicle of academic communication—had given rise to a situation in which scientific knowledge increasingly came to be expressed in visual terms. “Came to be expressed” happened to be an important qualification, though. The empirical turn in STS moved scholars away from formulating universal criteria that demarcated rational science from irrational beliefs and shifted their focus from overidealized conceptions of science to the everyday practices of science.

This change did not result in debunking the significance of visual routines in science per se. On the contrary, the new approach fine-tuned the understanding of the historical processes and sociological mechanisms that had made visualizations (p. 13) the most widely accepted forms of scientific representation. Yet the empirical turn also created a heightened awareness of the contingencies in the skills used to acquire data, both the visual skills and those related to the other senses. As to the issue of representation, sociologist of science Bruno Latour showed how inscriptions such as tables and diagrams, because they were both immutable and mobile, effectively circulated locally acquired data across geographically widespread networks of knowledge (Latour 1986, 1987). Moreover, publications at the intersection of the history of science, media studies, and art history added insights into the shifting forms of visual display and the educational entertainment that preceded the spread of visual literacy (Stafford 1994; Tufte 1997).

At the very same time, scholars in STS began studying what actually happened in the laboratory before scientists sent out their inscriptions. These highlighted the subtle interconnections between the experimenter’s body, the use of scientific instruments, and the outcomes of laboratory work. Ethnographic lab studies revealed that experimental skills involve so much tacit knowledge that the exact replication of experiments is, in fact, extremely difficult to attain and could lead to an infinite “experimenters’ regress” (Collins 1985). Collins based the notion of tacit knowledge upon the work of Michael Polanyi (1967), considering it “an embodied kind of know-how irreducible to symbolic terms” (Mody 2005, 176). In addition, historians of science produced studies of the intricate relationships between research instruments and the content of the knowledge generated (Hankins and Silverman 1995; Schaffer 1999). A more nuanced account of visual instruments, for instance, led to the idea of an “externalized retina” that structures the cognitions of scientists (Lynch 1990). Similar in approach, studies of nonverbal “visual thinking” and materially located “situated actions” in engineering acquired salience (Ferguson 1992; Suchman 1987).

Closely in line with this type of research and echoing the rise of the history and anthropology of the senses, the study of the role of senses other than seeing in science, engineering, and medicine gained momentum. We have already mentioned Lachmund’s work (1994, 1999) on the rise of the stethoscope and auditory skills in nineteenth-century medicine and how this related to knowledge of pulmonary diseases (see also Duffin 1998). Others showed how technicians and engineers listened to photocopiers (Orr 1996) and cars (Borg 2007) to detect flaws in the mechanisms, as well as how in materials science the sounds of laboratory instruments and data informed researchers of the quality and content of the experiments (Mody 2005).

Such work does not imply that all scientific work draws on the senses. Many sciences depend on the use of mathematics and logics that rely less directly on sensory skills. Moreover, many historians of science accept the claims of Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison (1992, 2007) on the rise of “mechanical objectivity.” As they have shown, the moral of mechanical objectivity in science gradually gained significance, reaching its zenith in the 1920s. This moral dismissed the human mind and body as trustworthy witnesses of natural phenomena in favor of the registration of such phenomena by machines. Yet as Lissa Roberts (1995, 519) has argued, (p. 14) eighteenth-century chemists publicly sidelined touch, hearing, smell, and taste and in fact transformed “their bodies into appendages of a machine.”

To understand the role of the senses in knowledge dynamics, it is thus useful to distinguish between the different sites at which scientists, engineers, and physicians perform their work: in behind-the-doors laboratories and out-of-sight fields, in the factories and hospitals, where professional engineers and doctors examine individual machines and bodies, as well as at the conferences at which they present their results in scientific papers. These different sites are all represented in the chapters that follow.

Across these sites of knowledge production, different modes of listening are involved, such as monitory, diagnostic, exploratory, and synthetic listening. Monitory listening is the kind of auditory surveillance that scientists, engineers, and physicians employ in order to check the proper functioning of instruments, machines, and patients’ bodies (Mody 2005; Bijsterveld 2006). Diagnostic listening refers to the mode of listening that physicians apply to identify pathologies when using a stethoscope (Lachmund 1994, 1999; Rice and Coltart 2006) and that engineers use to detect the origin of calculation mistakes in computers by amplifying their sound (Alberts 2000, 2003). Whereas monitory listening is used to determine whether something is wrong, diagnostic listening reveals what is wrong. Exploratory listening is listening to discover new phenomena. Susan Douglas (1999) used it to refer to the way in which early amateur radio operators searched the ether for radio stations. The use of sound recording technologies by ornithologists to identify new bird species is a similar form of exploratory listening. Synthetic listening, finally, focuses on the understanding of polyphonic patterns of sound, such as in the sonification of scientific data (Dayé and de Campo 2006).

All of these modes of listening require specific skills. These are not only skills for understanding what exactly one is listening to but also technical skills linked to the listening devices used, such as positioning a stethoscope properly on a patient’s body or effectively handling a magnetic tape recorder. Even musical skills may be required as, for instance, when engineers single out the different “melodies” and “rhythms” of humming computers. This explains why we prefer to speak of sonic skills rather than auditory skills.

The chapters that follow have produced highly contextualized insights into the fundamental issue of sensory selectivity in the production and validation of scientific knowledge and technological design. Rather than proclaiming a victory of the visual in science, pleading for the emancipation of hearing at the expense of seeing, or defending a perceptual equilibrium, the chapters investigate when, how, and under what conditions the ear has contributed to knowledge dynamics in tandem with or instead of the eye. All of the authors have their own particular take on these issues, colored by the scholarly traditions they draw from. We do not want to give away all of their conclusions. We do, however, want to flag a few remarkable issues that return in many of the chapters, albeit under different headings.

The first issue concerns the contexts in which an interest in sound leads to the acquisition of knowledge of objects, machines, bodies, and environments—what (p. 15) Steven Feld has called “acoustemology” (Feld 2003) and Tom Porcello has retuned into “technostemology” for technologically mediated forms of acoustemology (Greene and Porcello 2005). Apart from the availability of instruments that have enabled or assisted listening, there seems to be a clear relationship with military activities—detecting “the enemy” with the help of sound—or, in contrast, the wish to leave such a military focus behind, such as in reconversion activities (Mody, this volume). Another relevant context involves efforts to aid those who are blind or deaf (Supper and Mills, this volume). Moreover, the epistemological status of sound and the attitude toward acoustic instruments or practices seem related to the dominance of particular sensory-related crafts and instruments within certain disciplines or medical practices, such as the microscope in biology or the stethoscope in medicine (Mody and Rice, this volume).

Another intriguing issue is that in their attempts to make sound “speak” to them and to inform them about the topics they study, scientists, engineers, physicians, and test subjects struggle with the verbalization or description of sound. To compare sounds—whether those of car engines, birds, hearts, sonar, or sonified data—and to delineate even the tiniest differences, knowledge makers need a sound vocabulary and a sound language—in short, a way to talk about sound. In doing so, they not only use dictionary words for sound, such as “roaring,” “whistling,” or “crackling” sounds, but also draw upon analogies with the sounds of musical instruments, the human voice, and everyday artifacts. Creating a sound vocabulary is a prerequisite for making a “sound index,” “sound codification,” or “sound taxonomy”: a way of distinguishing and classifying sounds. Subsequently, the taxonomy enables “sound mapping”: the assignment of sounds to the information they represent, as Stefan Krebs explains in his chapter.

He and other authors nicely illustrate the various modes of listening in medical, engineering, and scientific contexts, such as monitory listening or sonic surveillance (Rice, this volume), diagnostic listening (Krebs and Rice, this volume), and exploratory listening (Fickers, this volume). The empirical evidence in these chapters also implies, however, that it is helpful to distinguish conceptually between the intent behind the listening, such as in our initial definition of monitory or diagnostic listening, and the more perceptual or epistemological characteristics of listening, such as in sound mapping.

Also remarkable are the many ways in which the sonic and the visual interfere with one another. Some of the chapters here describe instances of conversion or “transduction” of sonic information into visual information; we have already alluded to these phenomena. Examples are recording sound by way of music notation and onomatopoeia or with the help of instruments such as the kymograph or the sound spectrograph. More important, these chapters also explain why conversion took place and what effects resulted. Other chapters illustrate how even the listening experience itself has been visualized, such as through the design of the radio dial (Fickers, this volume) or how visual conceptualizations of sound, such as the “close up,” entered the world of sound recording in science (Bruyninckx, this volume).

(p. 16) Finally, we want to share with our readers the observation that tinkering, repairing, and do-it-yourself practices in research and art seem to be sociologically related to the tendency to adapt audification, sonification, and careful listening, to—in other words—some sort of sensory sophistication and sensory flexibility. There is a link in this respect between Krebs’s mechanics, Mody’s acoustic microscope people, Jackson’s, Helmreich’s, and Supper’s tinkerer-composers, and Mill’s technophile cochlear-implant test subjects, which they share with Marc Perlman’s audiophiles (2004) and Kristen Haring’s amateur radio operators (hams) (2008).

4. New Sources and Means of Capturing, Storing, and Reproducing Sound

This book covers many new and old sources of sound, some intentional and some unintentional. Science, technology, and medicine themselves constitute one of the biggest new sources of unintentional sounds. The machines of American industrialization such as the new weaving machines used in Lowell, Massachusetts (Smith, this volume), or the industrial machines found in Nazi Germany, the former DDR, and West Germany (Braun, this volume) were not deliberately designed to be noisy—although extra noise may on occasion also be symbolic of power.5 It just so happens that enormous engines or industrial machinery housed in enclosed spaces such as factories produce sound as a byproduct of their operation. Even in hospitals, medical technology is a source of often unintentional sound, whether it is the buzz of the ventilators of life-support systems or the beeps of more routine technologies such as digital thermometers (Schwartz, this volume). This is in contrast to, say, the intentional sounds of music, which, via radio and newly developed loudspeakers, was piped into factories in the twentieth century as part of the “music while you work” movement also described by Braun (this volume).

There is of course nothing “natural” about machines having to produce noise (Bijsterveld 2008). Once we understand the adverse health consequences of these noisy machines, we can design them to be quieter. The lack of naturalness of machine noise is nicely demonstrated by the sound engineering of automobiles (Cleophas and Bijsterveld, this volume), where a car company such as Porsche will employ acoustic engineers precisely to engineer the “throaty” roar of the Porsche engine to make it more appealing to its customer base —a sound that interestingly appeals differently depending upon the gender and nationality of consumers.

Unintentional sounds produced in new sorts of locations, such as factories, hospitals, and laboratories, can lead to the reconfiguration of space. One of the scenes Braun evokes is the workers testing some of the loudest diesel engines found in the Rostock diesel factory in the DDR in a special soundproofed room that they (p. 17) have constructed because of the health-threatening aspects of the sounds. Sound and acoustic architecture can together subtly change space in new designs of buildings and concert halls (Thompson 2002). Urban space can also be reconfigured by mobile listeners with the use of personal stereos and iPods (Bull, this volume). Geographical space too, can be dramatically changed as with the case of the early radio dial, which was for many listeners their gateway to different cities, regions, and countries (Fickers, this volume).

Science, technology, and medicine are themselves important sources of innovation for new sonic technologies and instruments. Sounds that have never been heard before can be listened to through new devices and pieces of equipment such as the stethoscope, which we have already mentioned. Interestingly, in the early history of the automobile a form of stethoscope was also developed specially for listening to car engines (Krebs, this volume). New sound reproduction equipment such as hydrophonic headphones and special loudspeakers enabled people to listen to sounds under water, thus facilitating a whole new form of art (Helmreich, this volume). New medical devices such as cochlear implants have helped deaf people or those with a severe hearing impairment almost miraculously to hear again (Mills, this volume).

New ways of producing and capturing sounds also change the way we mediate sound. For instance, in the early days of radio, listeners’ experience of geography was mediated by the tactile feel and visual organization of the radio dial (Fickers, this volume). The new parabolic microphone allowed bird sound to be captured but required a truckload of equipment to accompany it, thus mediating the sorts of “natural” environments where bird sounds could be recorded (Bruynincks, this volume). With new instruments and techniques, new sorts of skills and tacit knowledge can also emerge (Rice, Krebs, and Kursell, this volume) and may involve new regimes of training, as well as the new types of listening skills, which we discussed earlier.

Science, technology, and medicine offer new ways of transforming or “transducing” sound. The transformation of sound to another material medium enables it to be more easily stored and transported, such as with phonograph cylinders, player piano rolls, vinyl records, tapes, cassettes, compact discs, and later a vast array of digital storage and transmission media. This is an important point for sound studies to digest and lies at the core of the STS approach to sound.

The strength of science studies is in its dealing with materiality, the senses, culture, and politics within the same analytical register. Special pieces of equipment that render the external world into visual traces that are in turn reproducible and transportable are known within STS as “inscription devices” (Latour and Woolgar 1979). In sound studies we are dealing with an even wider range of transformations or conversions between different senses and different media (for instance, the underwater sounds described by Helmreich). Scholars in this volume employ terms such as transduction (Helmreich) or conversion (Mody) to describe such processes. Indeed, from the perspective of sound studies it is possible to see the “inscription device” as a rather limited, purely visual form of a much more general class of (p. 18) devices for transforming the external world into reproducible and transportable sensory traces.

The increasing movement toward sonification has produced a range of new ways of rendering scientific data into the sensory realm (Supper, Sterne and Akiyama, this volume). The transformation to another media or material also produces the possibility of new forms of sound storage such as the phonoautograph (Sterne and Akiyama, this volume), the phonograph (Kursell and Katz, this volume), the player piano (the punched paper holes can even be thought of as an early means of digital storage) (Katz, this volume), and the current digital revolution aligned to computers, software, and the Internet in the ways that sound and music are produced, stored, and consumed (Grimshaw, Whittington, Katz, Fouché, Pinch and Athanasiades, and Bull, this volume). Sometimes new inscription devices, such as the kymograph,6 invented by German physiologist Karl Ludwig in the 1840s, can be combined with new sound technologies such as the phonograph to provide new tools for scientific investigation (Kursell, this volume). Another example is the combination of the new parabolic microphone for recording bird sound with the audio spectrogram to advance scientific studies of birdsong (Bruyninckx, this volume)

With these new ways of transforming, storing, and reproducing sound come interesting conceptual issues about how the “transformed” sounds are experienced. For instance, with the development of the phonograph, new sorts of musical idioms became popular because of phonograph recording techniques, such as overcoming the sonic limitations of the bullhorn microphone, by singers “crooning” or excessive vibrato on a violin (Katz 2004). Indeed, such musical effects, rather than being seen as artifacts of the recording process, started to sound “real,” and performers began including them in their live performances—a process known as phonorealism. With the digitization of sound, new sorts of sonic experiences have become possible, such as the “hyperrealism” of sound and the “immersion” of the listener in the sonic experience of modern movies and video games (Whittington and Grimshaw, this volume). Novel technologies, such as digital samplers and synthesizers, enable sounds to be specifically “designed” to enhance visual stimuli in movies (Whittington, this volume) or to sell commercial products (Taylor, this volume). Technology, it can be argued, is creating original sorts of pheno­menal experiences, such as with cochlear implants—a foretaste of what some futurists claim will be life increasingly emulating video games (Mills, this volume). Psychological states are more and more linked directly to sounds, whether these states are the audiotopia sought after by iPod listeners (Bull, this volume) or involve the monitoring of EEGs linked to sound sources, which has been proposed as a new way of making video games even more sonically immersive (Grimshaw, this volume). However, the significance of these transformations between the senses is even deeper for the field of sound studies. As Sterne and Akiyama argue, as the senses themselves become ever more technologically mediated, they become more “plastic,” and this challenges standard accounts of individual senses that one typically encounters in histories, anthropologies, and cultural studies.

(p. 19) The new technologies of sound have had a dramatic impact on the arts. The invention of the electronic music synthesizer has been described as one of the major musical transformations of the twentieth century (Pinch and Trocco 2002). The boundaries between what is natural and what is synthetic in music has always been contested. For example, are the keys on a flute a “mechanical” interference or an integral part of a “natural” instrument (Pinch and Bijsterveld 2003)? What makes a musical instrument an instrument as opposed to a machine or piece of technology (Pinch and Trocco 2002)? What counts as music and what counts as noise have, of course, been fiercely contested (Kahn 1999). Unintentional sounds such as the sound of wind made by an Aeolian harp or the sounds heard in John Cage’s famous 4′33″ challenge our notion of music. New sounds, such as that made by a scratch on a vinyl record, can be a source of innovation for a whole new genre of music such as in hip-hop (Katz and Fouché, this volume). New instruments developed in the lab, such as the metronome, siren, and tuning fork, can become sources of musical inspiration that lead to new compositions (Jackson, this volume), as can the instruments taken over from war-time sonar used to make underwater music (Helmreich, this volume). Digital software enables users to transform their personal computers into recording studios and leads to new genres of music such as “remixing” and “mash-ups” (Katz, Pinch, and Athanasiades, this volume). Sometimes the new sonic technologies and the sorts of sound they produce lead to desires to acquire and experience earlier ways of producing and listening to music, such as the “technostalgia” involved in the turn to vintage electronic instruments (Pinch and Reineker 2009) and the desire for authentic vinyl scratching practices in hip-hop (Fouché and Katz, this volume).

The border crossings between the arts and science documented in this book reveal again that essentialist definitions of instruments and their proper domains are unnecessarily restrictive. “Follow the instruments” is the methodological heuristic heard in this volume (Pinch and Bijsterveld 2004). Instruments developed in science and engineering can become part of the arts and the commercial world and vice versa (Kursell and Jackson, this volume). The lack of one meaning of scientific results and technologies is referred to as “interpretative flexibility” within STS (Collins 1985; Shapin and Schaffer 1985; Latour 1987; Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch 1987). The role of users is crucial here as well. Users, such as Grand Wizard Theodore, who is reputed to have invented the hip-hop vinyl scratch, have in effect redesigned the technology of the record player for an entirely new use in music making (Eglash et al. 2004). Within STS we describe this as the “interpretive flexibility” of technology once more appearing but in this case in the context of use (Kline and Pinch 1996; Oudshoorn and Pinch 2003). This book is full of such instances, including the remarkable example of one the earliest methods of magnitizdat found in Eastern Europe during the Soviet era, documented by Trever Hagen and Tia DeNora (this volume). The emulsion on discarded X-rays from the 1950s in the Soviet Union provided a material that could be engraved as a record. The production and distribution of these homemade records became known as roentgenizdat, or “playing the bones.” This case and the hip-hop one add a political valence to these user practices.

(p. 20) Running like a bass ostinato throughout the transformations, travels, and terminations undergone by sound in this volume are indeed the politics of sound. A common struggle is which professional group gets authorized to use which sound technologies and where (Krebs, Katz, Supper, and Rice, this volume). The politics of sound crops up in the status of the amateur in music (Katz, Pinch, and Athanasiades, this volume), the struggles over racialized and gender identities (Smith, Braun, Schwartz, Fouché, Pinch, and Athansiades, this volume), and the sorts of subversive listening and music practices encountered during the Cold War in Eastern Europe (Hagen and DeNora, this volume). Earlier struggles over noise abatement (Thompson 2002; Bijsterveld 2008; Braun, this volume) and new struggles over the possible damage to hearing from new devices such as earbuds (Bull and Schwartz, this volume) remind us that sound, as in the story of the SoundEar, is part of the lived politics of everyday life.

5. Chapter Summaries

One of the most enduring sources of unintended sound is natural phenomena, such as thunderstorms, waterfalls, the ocean, volcanoes, and the sounds made by the creatures that inhabit the natural world. This concern is central to Mark Smith’s opening chapter of the Shop Floor Section, where he reconsiders the “machine in the garden” thesis of industrialization in the United States, made famous by Leo Marx. How was the sound of nature experienced, and how did it contrast with the new sorts of industrial sounds found in factories? Furthermore, how did the sounds of the new industrial soundscape contrast with the sound of another means of production—the more silent and agrarian use of slavery in the South?

What machine sounds mean to listeners and how they respond to them crucially depend upon historical context, as Smith shows in his chapter. Hans-Joachim Braun writes about a very different period, Germany in the Nazi era and the “two Germanies” after the Second World War. One of the most intriguing questions he discusses is how the differing German political regimes and their dissimilar commitments to the rights and safety of workers have actually dealt with industrial noise.

The sound of the early automobile engine in Germany from the 1930s to the 1950s is the topic of Stefan Krebs’s chapter. Here a community of listeners arises who specialize in diagnosing a car’s problems from the sound of its engine, gearbox, and so on. This community turns out to be transient. First, it consists of the car owners themselves, who listen to the car—a form of listening that Krebs calls “listening by driving,” but later (by the 1950s) it is the specialized garages and auto mechanics who do most of the listening—a practice that over time largely vanishes in favor of other techniques of diagnosing automobile problems. Again, issues of “diagnostic listening” are important, but Krebs also offers a new theoretical (p. 21) addition with Michel Foucault’s notion of a “dispositive” to link these listening practices and their demise in the wake of wider power and discourse issues in society at large.

Cleophas and Bijsterveld write mainly about car sound and how European manufacturers in the 1990s tested what consumers wanted in that regard. They focus largely on the interior of cars and how even things such as the “crackle” of leather upholstery should come with the “right sound” for a particular make or model. The tests carried out reveal that laypeople’s vocabulary of sound and their listening skills do not always match those of expert engineers. They extend STS approaches toward understanding testing to this new sonic environment. Negotiating a common shared meaning—the outcome of a test—is even harder in the context of different European cultures. Moreover, Cleophas and Bijsterveld draw upon Gerhard Schulze’s notion of Erlebnisgesellschaft, or “experience-driven society,” to explain why the car industry began caring so much about sound design at all. Schulze argues that since many products have been perfected, sensory experience plays an ever-greater role in their marketing and sales.

The sound of nature—in this case, birds—is a central feature of Joeri Bruyninckx’s chapter on how the recording of birdsong has evolved and become more scientific since the late 1920s. He focuses upon ornithologists in the United Kingdom and the United States and shows how special microphones and devices for turning sound into visual traces, such as the vibralyzer, the oscillograph, and the audio spectrograph (taken over from wartime uses of sonar to search for submarines), have played a crucial role. Often trips into the wild to record the sounds of birds were stymied by the large mobile studios needed to house the recording equipment of the day. Part of his story is the role played by people in the movie industry, who were often the first to develop new sound technologies for places such as the well-known Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Interestingly, later on in another very different sonic context we find scientists returning the compliment by contributing to the movie industry. Bill Whittington writes in his chapter about how Cornell computer scientists in collaboration with companies such as Pixar are developing new ways to digitally realize sounds for movies. Although for the purpose of organization we have divided this book into sections such as the Laboratory, Field, and Studio, the actors studied do not always respect or follow such categories. As Bruyninckx points out, although we have placed his chapter in the field section, the field, lab, and studio become “blurred spaces” in his study. Perhaps as this is a sounds study book we could better say that the different sites (as in the recording studio) suffer “leakage.”

The sound of nature does not feature much in other chapters although the medium of water is an important theme in Stefan Helmreich’s chapter on underwater music. Helmreich shows how the explorers of underwater music learned much from military underwater technologies such as sonar and the development of hydrophonic headphones. New technologies of loudspeakers are also required to produce underwater sounds. There is fluid movement between the sciences and the arts. Helmreich is one of the first authors in the handbook to raise the issue of (p. 22) transduction—sound that is usually experienced in air must be experienced in a totally different medium, water, and this requires special devices: “transducers.” What does it mean to “transduce” or transform sounds from one sonic medium or sense to another, and what is lost and gained in the process?

Julia Kursell shows in her chapter how the phonograph and the kymograph were used by Carl Stumpf at the Berlin Institute of Psychology in the early twentieth century as a tool for the scientific investigation of sound and hearing. Stumpf explored the ways in which these new instruments could be used for the study of language. For instance, he recorded and replayed sounds, such as human vowels, at different speeds. In 1908 Stumpf also established a phonograph archive that contained examples of musical use from all over the world as part of an ethnologically inspired endeavor. At the same time, the archive provided a basis for the new field science of comparative musicology—which today we would call ethnomusicology. Kursell uses German media theorist Friedrich Kittler to rethink what is involved in the standardization of a media technology.

Myles Jackson also reminds us that sound travels between the arts and science in his investigation of several devices developed in the nineteenth century by scientists and acousticians interested in better understanding musical phenomena such as pitch. He documents the invention of the tuning fork, the siren, and the portable chronometer (the latter became the metronome) and the different uses they acquired later in musical composition and performances in the twentieth century (the tuning fork and metronome, he notes, also became important instruments in nineteenth-century physiology). This traveling across disciplines and indeed between the sciences and the arts in general makes following these acoustic and sound technologies even more salient. As these instruments get used in new ways in new contexts by new groups of users, we start to hear a richer story of how human creativity and invention occur. While bricolage and tinkering are going on, their sounds are calling out to be listened to. What is at one moment a scientific instrument can later become a new musical instrument. Similarly, a musical instrument such as the phonograph can become part of a scientific laboratory, as Julia Kursell details. The world of sound has for too long been walled off —it is an important part of the means and methods on which the world of human ingenuity and creativity thrive.

At the start of his chapter, Cyrus Mody again draws attention to the issue of the transformation of sound by the community of probe microscopists, who developed many of the new sorts of instruments that are crucial to nanotechnology. Mody uses the term synesthetic conversion, meaning conversion and reconversion between any of the senses, and points out that probe microscopists were attempting to engage the haptic dimensions of the practice, as well as the audio and the visual. Mody’s chapter is largely about the wider context in which this community of probe microscopists emerges at specific locations, such as Stanford University during the 1960s. He shows how this group was also embroiled in the “reconversion” of American academic research from military funding and applications to civilian funding and an orientation to “human problems.” Mody thus shows how the (p. 23) specific technical concerns and practices of the scientists he studies were linked to the wider social and political context in which they worked.

The transformation of scientific data into auditory information is part of a wider process known as sonification. In her chapter, which concludes the section on the laboratory, Alexandra Supper looks at the recent history of this emergent field. Researchers in the field must not only find a way to reduce the residual bias toward the visual but also convincingly legitimize the various sonification techniques, often linked to music and the arts, to make this a discrete field in its own right. No one describes “visualization” as a separate field of science, so what warrants a field of “sonification”? The search for the “killer application” that Supper documents is further testimony to its current striving for professional status. Supper follows sonification through different contexts in great detail by studying its discursive formations and strategic demeanor and its attempts to professionalize. Part of the novelty of her work lies in her focus upon conference presentations by scientists—an area neglected in much of the history and sociology of science.

Hospital sounds are discussed in the chapter by Hillel Schwartz. Drawing upon an astounding range of sources, including literary greats such as Homer and Kafka, he details the history of the silent hospital, starting with Florence Nightingale’s experiences in the Crimean war. Schwartz considers hospital architecture and the ever-increasing encroachment of noise in parallel with the history of another audio technology—the earplug. He traces its use particularly through the First World War and up to the noise-canceling headphones of today. It is the conjunction of the technology of personal sound (and its prevention) and the institutional sound of the hospital that gives Schwartz’s chapter its tension. Just as in the social sciences, where we wrestle with a concern for both individuals qua individuals and wider social formations such as groups and institutions, so, too, with sound technologies: Is sound an institutional problem to be treated by reforming hospitals, or is it up to individuals to wear sound devices to protect themselves? The wearing of individual devices, of course, soon gets coupled with issues of stigmata and gender (the “manliness” or not of such devices) as Schwartz details and which Braun and Smith in the very different context of industrial noise also note.

Another important source of sound is the human body. The process known as auscultation, which is the topic of Tom Rice’s chapter, concerns the sounds of internal organs such as the heart and how they can be listened to with a new device, the stethoscope. Interestingly, Rice was drawn to this topic while carrying out a project similar to Schwartz’s, namely a study of how patients in a modern hospital experienced sound. Rice’s study is one of the most anthropological in the volume as he details his own “ears-on” experiences as he learned auscultation from a practitioner in a leading London teaching hospital. We have already mentioned diagnostic listening skills, and this chapter explores them in detail. It discusses issues such as how the sound of a heartbeat can help medical practitioners make a diagnosis, how stable the categories it produces are, and how reliable the technique itself is, especially when other medical contexts (such as that in the United States) play down auscultation in favor of heart monitoring by echocardiography (which uses another (p. 24) sonic technology, ultrasound, to produce a sonograph of the heart). Rice not only is concerned with how the listening skills are acquired and passed on but also notices how listening to the body requires medical practitioners to acquire special bodily skills and postures as they learn to position their bodies in the best way to employ this specialized form of listening. He thus engages with the discussion on tacit skills in this volume.

Another chapter in the section on clinics discusses a new device that utilizes sound technology, the cochlear implant, which enables deaf people or those with a severe hearing impairment to hear again. This controversial topic—some members of the Deaf community welcome cochlear implants, whereas others reject them as a violation of “Deaf culture”—has been treated within STS before where there is a growing literature on disability studies (Blume 2010; Haraway 2008). Mara Mills describes the cochlear implant as the most common neural-computer interface in the world with more than two hundred thousand users. She sets her chapter within the context of neuroenhancement and its futurist discourse and offers a new history of cochlear-implant development by focusing upon the previously neglected topic of the subjects actually used in the research. By treating the subjects as “users,” she shows how their concerns sometimes get incorporated and sometimes ignored in the design of these devices, which must also accommodate economic concerns and the pressures of the wider medical establishment. One thus gains a sense of the new forms of subjectivity that these devices can enable. Mills intriguingly quotes media theorist Vilém Flusser, who found that his own deafness and a hearing aid gave him more control as to what he chose to hear— a form of “ear lid” that enabled him to better navigate his immersion in the world’s noises and voices and permitted him to “see through” the programming of his own hearing aid and thus both “see” and hear better.

Immersion is an important theme in the handbook and no more so than in the section on the design studio. Often work on the phenomenology of sound, such as Don Idhe’s important early investigations (Idhe 1976, 2007), starts by pointing out the difference between listening and seeing. The visual field appears as a form of screen surrounded by darkness in front of our eyes, but we experience sound all around us—in short without the aid of “ear lids” we are immersed in sound. The issue of sound immersion particularly comes to the fore in the design of video games, which is the theme of Mark Grimshaw’s chapter. Grimshaw, who is himself a game player and designer, shows how, in video games, the players have enormous control over where in the game the character they operate is at any moment; in addition, the sounds must respond appropriately (for instance, movement must generate the sound of footsteps). Furthermore, these sounds may convey important information to the player, such as footsteps coming from behind, signaling a threat. Because of the vast range of sounds that need to be generated in real time, the sonic experience in video games is also much more contingent upon the sound-generating technology available. Grimshaw’s chapter shows how technological constraint, the users’ own imaginative experiences, the designers’ goals, and the visual material offered to the user all work together to produce a constructed immersive experience. (p. 25) Grimshaw ends his chapter by pointing to an as yet unrealized possibility in games whereby sound itself might respond to the affective state of the player as measured by psychophysical sensors such as an EEG. In such a scenario one could imagine a frightening sound being made even scarier because the player did not yet seem to be frightened enough! This more complete enhanced immersive experience bears an uncanny similarity to the futurist scenarios Mills discusses in her chapter, whereby brain implants and neuroenhancers will, according to some futurists, make ordinary life appear more and more like a video game.

In contrast to Grimshaw’s chapter on video design, where the perspective of the player and the designer form the core of the analysis, Bill Whittington, a film scholar, considers the emergence of a whole new way of designing sound for film and a specialized company (Pixar) associated with it. Pixar, of course, is famous for having developed the computer-generated animation methods that replaced the extremely labor-intensive way that cartoons used to be made. Whittington shows that part of the story of this revolution in film production is a sound story. Film sound underwent a digital transformation of its own with the introduction of new sound formats and the rise of the sound design movement, which involved new sound technologies such as synthesizers and samplers. Indeed, Whittington argues, the technological innovations and new aesthetics that Pixar developed, including the use of sound techniques from live action movies, gained credibility in part because of sound. Whittington focuses mainly on the early animated short films that Pixar made. Important is the development of the technique and the aesthetic of what he calls “hyperrealism,” where designers created stylized constructions that accessed familiar sound events yet recombined these effects to create new sound impressions. For instance, the sound of a dog barking in Toy Story was made by combining the sound of a barking dog with that of a tiger. Whittington unpacks the cinematic codes embedded in the new methods and traces the relationships among the complicated networks of production companies, sound houses, and designers in the San Francisco Bay area, which preceded Pixar and led to its eventual success. With the current success of 3D productions such as Avatar, Hollywood is still undergoing dramatic changes, and, as Whittington notes, the increasing turn to a “spectacle of sensation” means that the immersion experience of film is drawing ever closer to that of the video game technologies discussed by Mark Grimshaw in his chapter.

In the early 1960s, commercial electronic music was first becoming realizable. Tim Taylor, an ethnomusicologist, in the final chapter in the section on the design studio documents the early use of electronic sounds, such as those of the newly invented Moog synthesizer, to sell products such as beer and coffee. Taylor focuses on two of the best known U.S. commercial musicians of the period, Raymond Scott and Eric Siday, and dissects in great musicological detail their most famous ads. He contrasts Scott’s and Siday’s early efforts with those of a 1980s’ composer, Suzanne Ciani, who was famous for a Coke ad realized on her Buchla synthesizer, which evokes the kind of hyperrealism Whittington discusses. In the ad, the sound of Coke being poured is much more evocative than the sound of “the real thing.” (p. 26) One can speculate that just as for the 1950s, when movies and ads led to the growing acceptance of electronic sounds, hyperrealism as a form of listening—perhaps a new sonic skill—was conveyed via the popular medium of ads. Taylor’s chapter is interesting when read beside the earlier chapter by Cleophas and Bijsterveld on selling car sounds. In their case the car sounds help sell the product, and in Taylor’s case the hyperreal sound of the product sells the product.

In the opening chapter on the section on the home, Andreas Fickers tells us about early radio and in particular the role played by the iconic radio dial. For many people who grew up in the 1950s (as one of the editors of this book did), the dial glowing on the radio on the mantelpiece provided the first window into a global world—a world where listeners in Europe learned for the first time of the importance of, for instance, Hilversum, Holland (always featured prominently on such dials). Fickers details technical developments in early radio whereby it became possible to easily tune in stations—a precondition for the radio dial. However, the weight of his chapter is on spectrum-allocation issues that the International Broadcasting Union mediated in the 1920 and 1930s as different national radio interests negotiated nothing less than the layout of the dial. Fickers thus bridges the detailed listening habits in the home and the wider world of regulatory authorities to provide an intriguing account of the material, institutional, and symbolic aspects of this crucial feature of a single audio technology.

Radio and the elicit tuning-in of stations feature in Trever Hagen and Tia DeNora’s chapter on the role of sound technologies in Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the 1960s and 1970s as growing opposition to the official Communist regimes and their state-sanctioned music practices developed. We learn fascinating details about this world, such as that the sound of the Soviets’ attempts to jam Western stations was referred to by listeners in Czechoslovakia as “Stalin’s bagpipes.” They use anthropologist Victor Turner’s notion of a liminal space (defined by Turner as “betwixt and between”) to describe the sorts of nonofficial practice in which their subjects engage. The listening and performances that Hagen and DeNora document often take place in private spaces away from the prying eyes of the state. We learn how technologies such as radio, records, and cassette tapes were all important in the development of new forms of subversive practice and also how the sound technologies were in turn shaped by these practices. In Hagen and DeNora’s chapter the twist is that these subversive listening and musical practices help coproduce a sort of unofficial antistate as users learn how to develop a “disposition” to challenge the official state.

Mark Katz shows the continued importance of what might be described as “amateurs.” He starts by examining the use of the phonograph and the player piano and puts paid to the myth that the invention of these devices killed off amateur music making. Indeed, the story he tells is the converse: These new devices actually facilitated and encouraged amateur music making, and manufacturers often responded to these new users by modifying the devices to facilitate more new uses. Katz shows that technologies such as phonographs and the player piano employed devices to adjust tone, tempo, and loudness, along with the performance, so that (p. 27) the listener was far from being passive. He notes that, years before the digital medium arose, there was a lively tradition of home recording with the phonograph, with dubbing and the making of what we would today call “mash-ups.” Other amateur uses discussed by Katz are the development of karaoke in Japan (one of the few sections of this handbook to deal with music in Asia), the ways users adapt the video game “Guitar Hero,” and, as mentioned already, the birth of hip-hop.

In the concluding chapter to the section on the home, Trevor Pinch and Katherine Athanasiades examine a specific form of digital musical community that has arisen with the advent of the Internet. These amateur musicians, who form a worldwide community, post their musical compositions to a special website, where their music can in turn be downloaded and reviewed by other users and which offers a chart position for every piece of music posted. Pinch and Athansiades show how online reputations at this site are established with the help of yet another form of transduction, one between sounds and music and the words and symbols that populate online ranking systems. They also show that, although the website does open up new possibilities for musical identities and forms of collaboration, many of the identities (including gendered identities) and processes found there actually bear more resonance to existing offline musical practices and identities.

The last section of the handbook contains three chapters that deal with the new possibilities of moving sound that digital storage offers. However, Rayvon Fouché’s chapter, which opens this section, starts off in the analog world. The origin story of the vinyl record “scratch” is well known. At first an unwanted and annoying aspect of vinyl record listening, in the hands of a skillful DJ, “scratching” became part of the new music making of hip-hop. Special tools and technologies and eventually digital scratching systems evolved as Fouché discusses. He points to the crucial role played by hybrid digital-vinyl systems, which allows DJs to control digital music with specially encoded vinyl records and turntables, thus preserving some of the authentic craft of analog scratching while seeming to embrace the latest digital advances. Rather than having to schlep heavy vinyl records around, DJs can now have all their music conveniently nearby, stored on a digital computer. The practices of digital scratching and the use of vinyl have, however, remained in tension within the hip-hop community. Fouché’s chapter is one of the few in the volume where issues of race and ethnicity and audio technology are interconnected. He documents how Grandmaster Flash played an important and often-neglected role in outlining the technical specifications for one of the mixers used by DJs.

The sound of the urban soundscape forms the background to Michael Bull’s chapter on iPod listeners. The iPod (along with other MP3 players and cell phones) is one of the most pervasive new sound technologies ever introduced. As Bull (2000, 2007) has shown, personal stereos have profound consequences not only for how users’ psychological states can be mediated, modulated, and controlled but also for how they experience their external environment, including space and social interaction. In this chapter Bull argues that users must navigate between an extreme state of enjoyment, which he calls audiotopia, and the opposite state, audio toxicity—where iPod users lose all sense of their grounding (or, as Bull calls it, “tethering”) (p. 28) in the surrounding social world and even risk physical damage to their hearing. Bull draws upon a set of theoretical concerns from cultural studies to show how internal experiences and mental states are coproduced or coconstructed with particular new audio technologies.

The final chapter in the volume, which is by Jonathan Sterne and Mitchell Akiyama and takes Scott’s phonoautograph as its topic, raises a fascinating set of issues having to do with old ways of storing sound and modern digital methods of retrieving and recovering it. The phonoautograph received worldwide attention in 2008 after scientists managed to play back some of the songs recorded by Scott in 1860, thus producing what was claimed to be the “world’s oldest recording.” Sterne and Akiyama note that Scott rather belittled Edison’s phonograph as it merely played back sound. The phonoautograph was a new way to write sound—in other words, to render sound into a visual form. The chapter thus further explores the topic of sonification, taken up earlier by Supper. Sterne and Akiyama develop the cultural studies idea of “articulation,” which they describe as an approach that is more attentive to issues of power than other constructivist approaches such as the social construction of technology or actor network theory. Their conclusion is a dramatic one for sound studies. The examples of sonification they discuss demonstrate that data intended for one sense can be readily transformed into another, and they claim this shows the increasing plasticity of the senses. Their goal here is to “lay bare the degree to which the senses themselves are articulated into different cultural, technological, and epistemic formations.” In short, according to Sterne and Akiyama, it is no longer possible to treat particular technologies or cultural forms as predestined for or determined by a single sense. In a way, the topic of a sensory history, of anthropology, or of cultural studies has according to them been dissolved. This offers a radical challenge for the future!


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(1) The device is made by the SoundShip Company in Copenhagen and has won a Danish Design Council award. It has an interesting history: Before becoming adapted for classroom purposes, the device was first made with the idea of protecting musicians from damaging their ears.

(2) There actually was such an incident experienced by one of the editors (Trevor Pinch). The story has been slightly simplified for our purposes here. We are grateful to Otto Sibum for drawing our attention to the SoundEar; he and Thomas Kaiserfeld have graciously allowed us to use their friendly disagreement in this book.

(3) Http:// (accessed Sept. 2, 2010).

(4) These questions also guide the Maastricht research program “Sonic Skills: Sound and Listening in Science, Technology, and Medicine, 1920s–Now,” coordinated by Karin Bijsterveld and funded by a Dutch NWO VICI Award.

(5) For instance, American-made vacuum cleaners are reputed to be designed to be louder than similar machines in Europe and Asia because Americans associate a loud cleaner with more suction power. See John Seabrook, “How to Make It,” New Yorker, Sept. 20, 2010, 66–73.

(6) The kymograph consisted of a rotating drum covered with paper, over which a stylus moved back and forth recording a physiological variable such as blood pressure.