As common as it is today to speak of the relative “height” of musical pitches or of the sense of “vocal space” as it opened up by particular recording techniques, we did not always understand sound to be spatial. How did it become so? In Stereophonica: Sound and Space in Science, Technology, and the Arts (MIT Press, 2021), Gascia Ouzounian (Associate Professor of Music, Oxford University; Fellow and Tutor, Lady Margaret Hall) explores the answer, drawing on episodes drawn from the history of stereo technologies in the nineteenth century through to visual representations of and in sonic environments today. Ouzounian takes the reader from early innovations in the laboratory study of stereophony to the mobilization of the human hearing sense during World War I. Her account covers spectacular demonstrations of new sound-reproducing technologies in the inter-war period, the applications of new psychoacoustic theories of spatial hearing in both peacetime and in war, and right up to the 21st century, as the relation between sound and space are interrogated in contemporary sound installation art and radical interventions in the urban soundscapes of modern-day Beirut, Lebanon. This entry into sound studies and the history of technology deals with an array of historical, instrumental, and artistic cases in the long history of spatial sound. The reward of following its broad purview is a rich web of connections that disclose sound and listening as a long-fruitful site not only of aesthetics but also of the ethics of space and place, thereby opening up further study in the intersection between sound studies and sonic urbanism.
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.