Cover image for The soundscape of modernity : architectural acoustics and the culture of listening in America, 1900-1933
The soundscape of modernity : architectural acoustics and the culture of listening in America, 1900-1933
Thompson, Emily Ann.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
ix, 500 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


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NA2800 T48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this history of aural culture in early-20th-century America, Emily Thompson charts dramatic transformations in what people heard and how they listened. What they heard was a new kind of sound that was the product of modern technology. They listened as newly critical consumers of aural commodities. By examining the technologies that produced this sound, as well as the culture that enthusiastically consumed it, Thompson recovers a lost dimension of the Machine Age and deepens our understanding of the experience of change that characterized the era.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a pioneering study of America's culture of listening, University of Pennsylvania professor of the history and sociology of science Emily Thompson depicts a culture busily rationalizing, quantifying and taming sound in The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America 1900 1933. Beginning with the extraordinary (and little known) career of architectural engineer Wallace Sabine, from his felt-covered acoustical correction of the Rhode Island House of Representatives to his role in the influential design of Boston's Symphony Hall, Thompson analyzes the checkered (and ultimately futile) history of noise abatement and the implications of the introduction of electronics. Her account culminates in the design and construction of Rockefeller Center, and is powered throughout by the utopianism of the scientists, architects and engineers she depicts. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The Soundscape of Modernity is an interesting and descriptive history of the development of acoustical concerns of the early 20th century in the US. By examining the new technologies that were developing, Thompson (history and sociology of science, Univ. of Pennsylvania) constructs a compelling account of the experience of the modernity movement in the US and its cultural response. (The author was also coeditor, with Peter Galison, of Architecture of Science, 1999.) Although the sound generated had little to say about the physical spaces it was produced in, it speaks volumes about the society that created it. Thompson listens to those sounds and translates for us how it was consumed. There is a nice but not excessive mix of historic photographs, architectural drawings, graphs, and various line depictions, although all are in black and white. Due to the somewhat technical nature of the book, and since a third consists of footnotes, bibliography, and indexes, much of it is probably more appropriate for more advanced students. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. R. P. Meden Marymount University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
1 Introduction: Sound, Modernity, and Historyp. 1
2 The Origins of Modern Acousticsp. 13
3 The New Acoustics, 1900-1933p. 59
4 Noise and Modern Culture, 1900-1933p. 115
5 Acoustical Materials and Modern Architecture, 1900-1933p. 169
6 Electroacoustics and Modern Sound, 1900-1933p. 229
7 Conclusion: Rockefeller Center and the End of an Erap. 295
Codap. 317
Notesp. 325
Bibliographyp. 425
Indexp. 471