Music, Sound and Space: Transformation of Public and Private Experience

On March 4, our reading group convened to discuss two chapters from Cambridge UP’s 2015 anthology Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience.  We began with Eric F. Clarke’s “Music, Space and Subjectivity,” which acknowledges both the human capacity to hear space and the ways that sound and music can “specify various real and virtual spaces” (90).  Clarke notes the ocularcentric bias in spatial perception–we can see space so well that we often overlook how effectively we can actually hear space–and examines songs by Pink Floyd, Goldfrapp, and Bjork to highlight how each forms acoustic spaces.

We also explored Jonathan Sterne’s chapter “What the Mind’s Ear Doesn’t Hear,” which, building on his major study MP3: The Meaning of a Format, presents the MP3 as “a political modulation of private listening experience” (111).  Describing the development of the MP3, Sterne explores the criteria sound engineers used to create the most imperceptible decay in sound quality.  Yet, as Sterne explains, since “no two people can occupy the same exact subjective space,” the MP3 must at best rely “upon the measurement of something that can only be approximated: interior listening experience” (113).

We concluded by briefly mentioning another essay on the politics of sound and physical spaces: Michael Bull’s “The Audio-Visual Ipod.” This article observes how the iPod (or any mobile listening device,  I suppose) alters a listener’s perception of his/her environment.   Listening to, for instance, a sad song influences the way we perceive our current environment; the world may, as a result, seem melancholic. The iPod, then, transforms our perception of physical spaces, creating “a satisfying aestheticized reality for [listeners] as they move through daily life” (198).

Next month we will meet to analyze articles from, excitingly, the very first issue of Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal!

Works Cited

Bull, Michael. “The Audio-Visual iPod.” The Sound Studies Reader. Ed. Jonathan Sterne. New York: Routledge, 2012. 197-208. Print.

Born, Georgina, ed. Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Print.
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