The Soundscape of Modernity

The Soundscape of Modernity

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

By Emily Thompson

A vibrant history of acoustical technology and aural culture in early-twentieth-century America.





A vibrant history of acoustical technology and aural culture in early-twentieth-century America.

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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262201384 510 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 117 illus.


$39.95 T ISBN: 9780262701068 510 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 117 illus.


  • 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