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Eco-Sonic Media

Eco-Sonic Media

Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Eco-Sonic Media
    Book Description:

    The negative environmental effects of media culture are not often acknowledged: the fuel required to keep huge server farms in operation, landfills full of high tech junk, and the extraction of rare minerals for devices reliant on them are just some of the hidden costs of the contemporary mediascape.Eco-Sonic Mediabrings an ecological critique to the history of sound media technologies in order to amplify the environmental undertones in sound studies and turn up the audio in discussions of greening the media. By looking at early and neglected forms of sound technology, Jacob Smith seeks to create a revisionist, ecologically aware history of sound media. Delving into the history of pre-electronic media like hand-cranked gramophones, comparatively eco-friendly media artifacts such as the shellac discs that preceded the use of petroleum-based vinyl, early forms of portable technology like divining rods, and even the use of songbirds as domestic music machines, Smith builds a scaffolding of historical case studies to demonstrate how "green media archaeology" can make sound studies vibrate at an ecological frequency while opening the ears of eco-criticism. Throughout this eye-opening and timely book he makes readers more aware of the costs and consequences of their personal media consumption by prompting comparisons with non-digital, non-electronic technologies and by offering different ways in which sound media can become eco-sonic media. In the process, he forges interdisciplinary connections, opens new avenues of research, and poses fresh theoretical questions for scholars and students of media, sound studies, and contemporary environmental history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96149-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 2001 the conceptual artist Katie Paterson created an art installation titled ʺAs the World Turns,ʺ in which a phonograph record was made to rotate ʺin time with the earth.ʺ Patersonʹs work gave new meaning to the phrase ʺlong-playing recordʺ because her adjusted turntable revolved at the rate of one revolution every twenty-four hours. At that rate it would take four years to play Vivaldiʹs ʺSummer Concerto.ʺ Patersonʹs primary goal was not to reproduce music, however, as indicated by the fact that the disc rotated so slowly that its movement was invisible to the eye and produced no sound. In...

  5. 1. Green Discs
    (pp. 13-41)

    ʺIt doesnʹt sound very much like an insect, does it,ʺ asked the author of a 1928 article inNature, ʺthis great, soaring tone of [opera singer Enrico] Carusoʹs matchless tenor?ʺ Aware that many readers were probably scratching their heads at this odd question, the author quickly revealed his motivation for asking it. Carusoʹs phonograph records were, in fact, the work of an ʺunassuming, short-lived, tiny, reddish-coloredʺ insect and, not too long before, had been ʺgum-like lumps on the twigs of a far-off forest.ʺ TheNatureauthor marveled at the strange agencies of modern invention and industry that had allowed this...

  6. 2. Birdland Melodies
    (pp. 42-79)

    A 1971 television commercial begins with an interior view of an open window at night. An orange cat saunters onto the outside windowsill and looks into the room. The next shot reveals the object of the catʹs interest: a yellow canary chirps and hops about in a cage whose door is tantalizingly ajar. The cat licks its lips and jumps down onto the floor of the room. Suspense builds as shots alternate between the cat slinking forward in the half light of the room and the canary nervously ruffling its feathers. With an angry hiss, the feline charges out of...

  7. 3. Subterranean Signals
    (pp. 80-109)

    In the previous chapter I made passing reference to the fact that male canaries were trained as singers more often than females because of the formerʹs more frequent vocalizations. The less garrulous females were preferred, however, when it came to another kind of biotechnological media device. The flow of German canary songsters into the United States may have slowed to a trickle during World War I, but thousands of ʺcanary heroinesʺ made the reverse journey, traveling from the United States to Europe to be used by the military to detect dangerous gas in tunnels and trenches. Female birds were chosen...

  8. 4. Radioʹs Dark Ecology
    (pp. 110-141)

    Orson Welles once referred to radio as an ʺabandoned mine.ʺ It was the 1970s when Welles made this remark, and he meant to convey his belief that radio had been the victim of ʺtechnological restlessness,ʺ abandoned by artists and audiences before all of its riches had been discovered. Wellesʹs metaphor is a convenient bridge between the discussion of mining culture in the previous chapter and the project of the present one, which is to embark on an eco-critical investigation of radio theater. Given the central role played by mining operations in the history of industrialization and environmental degradation, Wellesʹs linkage...

  9. The Run-Out Groove
    (pp. 142-170)

    The run-out groove is the area on a phonograph disc after the last track on the side has finished, where the needle continues to ride in the groove, but no sound is produced. Like the leader and countdown on a reel of film, the run-out groove is a media liminal zone where featured content gives way to esoteric technical information about the materiality of the format. It is here, for example, where we can find the recordʹs matrix number and cryptic messages etched by the record-cutting engineer. The run-out groove is also a convenient metaphor for the concluding chapter of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 171-248)
  11. Index
    (pp. 249-254)