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Hardcover | Out of Print | 510 pp. | 8 x 9 in | 117 illus. | March 2002 | ISBN: 9780262201384
Paperback | $38.95 Trade | £32.95 | 510 pp. | 8 x 9 in | 117 illus. | September 2004 | ISBN: 9780262701068
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The Soundscape of Modernity

Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900–1933


In this history of aural culture in early-twentieth-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.

Reverberation equations, sound meters, microphones, and acoustical tiles were deployed in places as varied as Boston's Symphony Hall, New York's office skyscrapers, and the soundstages of Hollywood. The control provided by these technologies, however, was applied in ways that denied the particularity of place, and the diverse spaces of modern America began to sound alike as a universal new sound predominated. Although this sound—clear, direct, efficient, and nonreverberant—had little to say about the physical spaces in which it was produced, it speaks volumes about the culture that created it. By listening to it, Thompson constructs a compelling new account of the experience of modernity in America.

About the Author

Emily Thompson is a Professor of History at Princeton University.


“ 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)
“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


“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