Bookshelf

I’m constantly reading books about noise, sound, and music. On this page you will find a bibliography of some of my favorite (and not-so-favorite) works related to sound-studies.

Books are listed in alphabetical order, by the author’s last name.

• Jean-François Augoyard & Henry Torgue (eds.)
Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds
(Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005)

An alphabetical sourcebook of sonic effects, for the more technically-minded. A useful tool for finding the right terms to use when describing or classifying acoustical phenomenon.

• Michael Bull & Les Back (eds.)
The Auditory Culture Reader
(Oxford: Berg, 2003)

A wonderful collection featuring many of the key thinkers on sound, noise, and auditory culture. A must-have for students of sound studies.

• Veit Erlmann (ed.)
Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening and Modernity
(Oxford: Berg, 2004)

A collection of essays compiled after a symposium held in 2002. Takes an anthropological approach to sound and listening, with an ear towards helping us understand how cultures and communities listen and hear in myriad different ways.

• Steve Goodman
Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear
(Cambridge, MS: M.I.T. Press, 2010)

This book, while seemingly offering a much-needed analysis of the role of sound in warfare, is actually an exceedingly frustrating read. Confusing organization, full of jargon and poorly-explained theory. Contains a few tidbits of knowledge and some interesting facts, but otherwise sadly not worth the effort.

• Douglas Kahn
Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts
(Cambridge, MS: M.I.T. Press, 2001)

An interdisciplinary history and theory of sound in the arts in the 20th century. From the Futurists to Cage to modern machine music, Kahn explores the theory and politics surrounding artists’ conscious use of noise, sound, and silence in their works. An important book and must-read for anyone interested in the conjunction of sound and art.

• Douglas Khan & Gregory Whitehead (eds.)
Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio & the Avant-Garde
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994)

A collection of essays addressing the use of sound in art, and the ways that different avant-garde movements have used and understood sound, noise, and radio broadcasting. Can be a bit densely theoretical at times, but that tends to be typical of the subjects tackled in this book, including: surrealism, futurism, Cagean silence, German radio art and William Burroughs’ tape experiments.

• Garret Keizer
The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise
(New York: Public Affairs, 2010).

If you’re a newbie to the idea of sound-studies, this is the book for you. Highly readable, enjoyable, and accessible, written for a popular audience rather than the academic world. Explores the multi-faceted nature of noise and sound in the everyday world, and offers a look at some of the deeper issues at stake in our noisy lives. I really enjoyed reading Keizer’s book.

• John Powell
How Music Works: A listener’s guide to the science and psychology of beautiful sounds
(London: Particular Books, 2010)

This book helps explain, in understandable, jargon-free language, the science behind how musical structures function, as well as the psychology behind why certain kinds of notes affect us in certain ways. A very useful guide for people with limited formal musical training, but also valuable to musicians who want to learn more about how music works.

• R. Murray Schafer
The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and The Tuning of the World 
(Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1977)

If you only ever read one book about the importance of sound in society, culture, history, and the everyday world, let it be this one. A classic and pioneering work of sound-studies by one of the founding fathers of the discipline.

• Mark M. Smith (ed.)
Hearing History: A Reader
(Athens, GA: U of Georgia Press, 2004)

A wonderful collection of essays by some of the most well-known scholars in sound-studies, incl. Schafer, Attali, Corbin, Khan, Thompson, etc. Covers a wide range of topics and time periods, organized into three sections: Sound & Thinking; Sounds European; Sounds American. A great introduction to thinking historically about sound.

• Jonathan Sterne
The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction
(Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2003)

A cultural history of the origins of listening technologies, recording, and sound-reproduction. A must-read for historians of technology, and those interested in the audible past. I reviewed this book in a blog post which you can read here.

• Emily Thompson
The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933.
(Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 2004)

A cornerstone of sound studies, this book analyses the role of sound and noise in modern culture, the history of sound abatement campaigns, and the development of modern acoustics and acoustical materials. There exists a video of Thompson lecturing on this book, which I blogged about here.

 

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