Scholarly blog: Sounding Out!

Since 2009, Sounding Out! has been publishing rigorous, accessible scholarship in the field of sound studies on a born-digital platform that seeks to curate “scholarship, podcasts, art, and essays—and rhetorical re-mixes of all these elements—devoted to answering four interconnected and interlocking research questions,” to wit:

  • How does listening impact the production of social difference? And vice versa?
  • What is the relationship between sound and power?
  • What is the role of sound and listening in everyday life, particularly in regards to identity construction and performance?
  • How do we understand the cultural histories of various sound media—the phonograph, the radio, the tape recorder, the telephone, the digital recorder and its various playback systems—in relationship to power and the production of social difference?

Editor-in-Chief J. Stoever-Ackerman writes that “Sounding Out! is a weekly online publication, a networked academic archive, and a dynamic group platform bringing together sound studies scholars, sound artists and professionals, and readers interested in the cultural politics of sound and listening.  Every Monday, our writers offer well-researched, well-written, and accessible interventions in sound studies, directing the field’s energy toward the social, cultural, and political aspects of sound and listening, particularly their differential construction of and material impacts on variously positioned bodies.”

Notably, Sounding Out!  is peer-reviewed scholarly publication indexed by the MLA Bibliography (ISSN 2333-0309), but as Stoever-Ackerman explains, the blog “follow[s] an open, developmental model fostered by digital humanities, in which editors and advisors are known to our writers, and provide several rounds of feedback, commentary, and collaboration before publication.  The editorial collective invites contributions via themed calls-for-posts as well as on more general topics related to our research mission.  We especially invite work that uses sound as more than an object of study, but also as a medium of argumentation, experience, provocation, and communication.”

Recent CFP’s include Medieval Sound, Sound and Affect, Gendered Voices, Round Circle of Resonance: José Esteban Muñoz, Sound and Surveillance, and Sound and Pleasure.

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.

Thinking about Noise: Simmel and DeLillo


William Hogarth depicts a noisy London in The Enraged Musician (1741).

In the next few posts, I will highlight some of the many ways writers have approached the phenomenon of noise. I begin today by turning back to the beginning of the twentieth century with Georg Simmel’s famous 1903 essay, “The Metropolis and Mental Life.”

Georg_SimmelIn his essay, Simmel observes how humans’ senses have adapted to specific environments over time. As people moved from the countryside to the modern metropolis, for instance, they had to develop physically and mentally to withstand the city’s constant external stimuli. Simmel explains that the metropolitan’s body gradually builds a “protective organ” that counters “the profound disruption with which the fluctuations and discontinuities of the external milieu threaten it” (12). In other words, the organ literally shields metropolitans from the external city’s innumerable sights, sounds, and smells.  This organ is necessary in an environment marked by constant sensory overload, for if metropolitans tried to perceive everything they encountered, they’d quickly become overwhelmed (and certainly accomplish nothing).