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The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 Paperback – September 17, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0262701068 ISBN-10: 0262701065

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 510 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (September 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262701065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262701068
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #991,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"This book takes on entirely new territory in the still-emerging scholarship on our aural history and does so with panache and clarity. It is an exemplar of how the history of technology and culture should be done." Susan Douglas, Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor, University of Michigan



"A good book opens your eyes; this one opens your ears as well."--Stuart W. Leslie, Department of the History of Science, Medicine and Technology, The Johns Hopkins University



"A good book opens your eyes; this one opens your ears as well." Stuart W. Leslie, Department of the History of Science, Medicine and Technology, Johns Hopkins University



"...an absorbing book, as accessible in its technical content as it is provocative in its cultural interpretations." Daniel J. Kevles The New York Review of Books



"...enlivened by copious photographs and architectural illustrations - a valuable source." Tom Perchard The Wire (UK)



"The Soundscape of Modernity describes the modern development of acoustics in wonderful, and easily understood, detail." John Bishop The American Organist



"This is a marvelous book and a seminal primer on how and why technology modified our taste." Derek Sugden The Architectural Review



"Thompson's narrative is elegantly written and wonderfully engaging." Leon Botstein Los Angeles Times Book Review



" The Soundscape of Modernity describes the modern development of acoustics in wonderful and easily understood detail." John Bishop The American Organist


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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Those invited to read an academic book on acoustics might well decline because of a headache, or an urgent need to wash the cat, or the constant press of quality daytime television. It would be hard to convince them that such a book could be exciting, or even interesting, especially if it weighs in with the heft of a textbook. But a remarkable work by historian Emily Thompson, _The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900 - 1933_, ought to be enjoyed by non-specialists and those who know nothing about the science of acoustics. Thompson has written a comprehensive, well-referenced, but witty and entertaining book about an important subject whose influence is surprisingly pervasive.
Thompson briskly reviews acoustic history; before this century, listeners knew there were better auditoriums and worse, but no one really knew why. To create a new venue for the important Boston Symphony Orchestra, the architect consulted a young Harvard assistant professor of physics, Wallace Sabine, who may be dubbed the Father of American Acoustics. In 1895, Sabine had been asked by the president of Harvard to improve the terrible acoustics of the lecture hall in the new Fogg Art Museum. In studying the problem, Sabine learned that the important thing to measure within a hall was the time of reverberation, the dying out of sound echoing through the room. This seems obvious now, but was the founding insight for all subsequent acoustical thought. He developed an equation relating the absorbing power of the room and its furnishings to the reverberation time. When Boston's Symphony Hall opened in 1900, the acoustics were an overwhelming success with critics.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Joe on January 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thompson focuses on the role of modernist tendencies in the construction and commodification of the auditory culture of America in the early twentieth century. She looks not only at the science of architectural acoustics but their linkage to the new recording technologies and general changes in the aural landscape of New York and elsewhere. We discover the completeness of the modernist retreat from the world into skyscrapers which had among their attributes the ability to silence all the outside noise of life. Thompson displays how the perception and creation of sound is absolutely coupled to a culture and its historicity. By doing so she links herself to the great French historian of the senses, Alain Corbin, who wrote Village Bells and allowed us to rediscover the sounds of the eighteenth French countryside and the culture that created it. To read a work written in such a provocative and entertaining way is a wonderful experience and to have such an experience with a book that centers around a topic as possibly dull as architectural acoustics is doubly impressive. As more talented historians are "coming out of the woodwork" and lending their abilities to the study of aurality our picture of the world past is quickly becoming a more vivid and less silent one.
Secondly, I fell the need to comment on one reviewer's critique. One, though F Murray Schafer may have helped create a new field of study and generated concern for a the loss of a particular kind of soundscape I think criticizing an entire book because you have a semantic disagreement about the title with the author is slightly ridiculous. Thompson states her differences with Schafer in the first couple hundred words.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Betsy Sundalius on January 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
The way that this book approaches the history of sound in the early twentieth-century is truly unique. Thompson catalogs the events from 1900-1933 from four different perspectives, each perspective in its own chapter. The explanation of the science involved in the evolution in sound is done extremely well; easily understandable to the non-technical person, and yet with enough detail to satisfy the technically minded. I am an engineering student and bought this book for a project for my noise control engineering class-a graduate level class-and it provided extremely useful to me in describing how the scientific community changed and evolved in the area of acoustics.

So many differently things were happening all at once during this time period. Books that focus solely on science and the scientific community totally disregard the social atmosphere that drove the scientific community to achieve as they did. Also, any social history would be remiss in omitting the contributions of the scientific community in a time period where science was celebrated and embraced by society. Thompson does a wonderful job of showing the history of both areas and how they interrelate to one another.

What follows is a brief outline of what the book includes and how it is presented:

Thomspon uses architecture, and the science of acoustics used to aid in design, as milestones in the development of what she refers to as the 'soundscape'. She begins with opening night at Symphony Hall in Boston on October 15, 1900, and ends with Radio City Music Hall, which opened December 27, 1932.

The introduction and brief overview is given in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 begins with opening night of Symphony Hall and how the work of Wallace Sabine impacted the design of music hall.
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