From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond
Distributed for Zone Books
Listening across millennia, a cultural historian explores the process by which noise today has become as powerfully metaphorical—and intriguing—as the original Babel.
When did the “silent deeps” become cacophonous and galaxies begin to swim in a sea of cosmic noise? Why do we think that noises have colors and that colors can be loud? How loud is too loud, and says who? Attending, as ears do, to a surround of sounds at once physical and political, Hillel Schwartz listens across millennia for changes in the Western experience and understanding of noise. From the uproarious junior gods of Babylonian epics to crying infants heard over baby monitors, from doubly mythic Echo to amplifier feedback, from shouts frozen in Rabelaisian air to the squawk of loudspeakers and the static of shortwave radio, Making Noise follows “unwanted sound” on its surprisingly revealing path through terrains domestic and industrial, urban and rural, legal and religious, musical and medical, poetic and scientific. At every stage, readers can hear the cultural reverberations of the historical soundwork of actresses, admen, anthropologists, astronomers, builders, composers, dentists, economists, engineers, filmmakers, firemen, grammar school teachers, jailers, nurses, oceanographers, pastors, philosophers, poets, psychologists, and the writers of children's books. Drawing upon such diverse sources as the archives of antinoise activists and radio advertisers, catalogs of fireworks and dental drills, letters and daybooks of physicists and physicians, military manuals and training films, travel diaries and civil defense pamphlets, as well as museum collections of bells, ear trumpets, megaphones, sirens, stethoscopes, and street organs, Schwartz traces the process by which noise today has become as powerfully metaphorical as the original Babel.
Endnotes and bibliography are not included in the physical book but are available online at the MIT Press Web site.
Hardcover$39.95 T | £30.00 ISBN: 9781935408123 912 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 16 b&w illus.
Schwartz is a writer's writer, meaning that he is a sublime stylist, can turn a phrase you'll never forget
For me, this book is a starting point for a hundred dissertations. Any of the historical vignettes can be excavated further and rendered into more familiar academic arguments. By choosing to let the material largely speak for itself and by letting himself speak so sonorously—even the acknowledgments are rendered into a form of poem—Hillel Schwartz has provided the perfect first register for recording a new sonic history.
Isis Journal of the History of Science Society