How have we used twentieth- and twenty-first-century sound technologies to carve out sonic space out of the hustle and bustle of contemporary life?
In search for an answer, in this episode I speak with Mack Hagood, Blayney Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies at Miami University, writer, and podcaster about his book, Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control (Duke University Press, 2011).
In Hush, Hagood examines a variety of twentieth- and twenty-first-century technologies of sonic self-control that includes nature recordings, clinical audiometric tools, and “sound conditioners” through to top-selling white noise apps and the noise-canceling headphones offered under the commercially successful Bose and Beats brands.
What this assortment of tools and technologies have in common, Hagood argues, is that they are all “orphic media”: kinds of media that carry or generate content that is designed to efface itself as such. Orphic media can be understood as tactics and technologies that offer us respite from postmodern conditions of excess and distraction, even if that promise is not always fulfilled.
Hagood draws on a variety of sources, including the results of his own ethnographic work, patent documents, and archival material, to develop a critical account of these media that—ironically—fight sound with yet more sound, one that is both grounded in the technical detail of how specific devices do this work and is sensitive to their various use-contexts, both actual and intended.
Mack Hagood produces and hosts the Phantom Power podcast, an aural exploration of the sonic arts and humanities that launched in 2018 with the support of the Miami University Humanities Center and The National Endowment for the Humanities, and can be subscribed to wherever you get your podcasts.
Eamonn Bell (@_eamonnbell) is a postdoctoral Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin in the Department of Music. His current research project examines the story of the compact disc from a viewpoint between musicology and media studies.