Bruce R. Smith – The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-factor

On October 22, Fordham’s Music and Sound Studies reading group reconvened to discuss its first monograph of the semester: Bruce R. Smith’s The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-factor.  Smith’s book was well-received, and we found his spatial approach to sound especially compelling.  While sound instinctively seems temporal and ephemeral, Smith responds that it actually is also spatial and enduring.  When we study spaces constructed for particular sonorous environments, we can recover traces of past sounds.  In this way, we can still engage with and act upon absent sounds; the past can become an object of present inquiry.  In other words, thinking of sound spatially grants it a persistence that is not accessible when we think of sound temporally.

We also spent time observing Smith’s astute challenge to Derrida (pp. 11-12). Whereas Derrida wants to locate writing in voice, Smith observes the body in sound production.  Smith criticizes Derrida for effacing the body’s role in creating sounds, as Smith points out that the body stores a set of practices that enables us to produce intelligible speech.

Smith’s book raised other questions about interdisciplinary study (particularly about the literariness of Smith’s endeavor) and about the presence of noise in both theoretical writings (Attali) and historical and literary scholarship (Picker, Cockayne).  These questions concluded our engaging and lively meeting.

The reading group will next meet on November 12 to discuss R. Murray Schafer’s The Soundscape.

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