Posted by: kaleidophonic | September 12, 2012

Two new sound-studies books

Cover art from the book “MP3: The Meaning of a Format” by Jonathan Sterne

Hey folks,

Short(ish) post today. Things have been busy. I’ve been splitting my time between the archives and the coffee-shops where I tend to do most of my writing, but today I took a time-out to attend (albeit briefly) a book launch here in Montreal. Jonathan Sterne has put out two books recently: The Sound Studies Reader and MP3: The Meaning of a Format, and both were launched this evening at the city’s premier comicbook shop, Drawn and Quarterly.

Full disclosure: I have yet to read either of these books. But I enjoyed Sterne’s previous publication, The Audible Past, and since he’s teaching at McGill I figured it was high time I went to meet the man. We had a brief chat, and agreed to go for coffee at some point, so hopefully I will have more to say when that happens. For now, a few notes on the books are all I can offer.

First, the Reader. I am a big fan of readers – they collect the most significant texts in any given field, and are great go-to sources for academics. So I was excited when I heard about this latest collection, which obviously is right down my alley. The Sound Studies Reader is big – there must be at least thirty entries in the book. At first glance I noticed quite a few essays and titles I’d read before, and I believe some of the content has been covered in previous sound-studies collections such as Hearing History: A Reader. But there were also some newer and altogether unfamiliar essays in there. I was particularly excited to see a piece by Algerian revolutionary theorist Frantz Fanon. Fanon’s ideas were big with Montreal’s national liberationists in the 1960s.

The one big problem I have with Sterne’s new edited collection is the price. Tonight at the launch it was on for a special 20% off, but was still $40. Amazon has it listed at $42. And this is the paperback edition. As an underemployed graduate student, unfortunately the price tag makes it too expensive for me, although I would dearly like to add a copy to my personal library.

As for Mp3, again, I have not read this book, so whatever I have to say about it should be taken with a grain of salt. I imagine the book follows from Sterne’s previous exploration of technologies of sound, as appeared in The Audible Past. If this is the case then it should be quite illuminating and revealing of assumptions we tend to make about the ‘permanence’ that digital storage formats seem to afford us. And as someone who spent too much of their time downloading Mp3s, during the glory days of Napster and Hotwire, then Limewire, and PirateBay torrentz, I’m curious about what Sterne might have to say regarding the facility of acquisition that Mp3 has afforded to music collectors such as myself. But I will obviously have to read the book to find out if my guesses are on the mark!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some blog news: for some time now I’ve been meaning to add a new page to Kaleidophonic, and have been working on it in dribs and drabs. This new page will be a ‘bookshelf’ where I’ll list relevant sound-studies titles that curious sound geeks like yourselves might want to read. So look for that in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned!


  1. I’d never heard of Jonathan Sterne. I’m really interested in checking some of his books out now. Sounds like exactly the kind of stuff I like to read. Thanks for the post.

    • No problem, thanks for reading!

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