The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $15.98
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 55%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (11) from $15.98   
  • New (5) from $21.99   
  • Used (6) from $15.98   


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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
" 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)

"The Soundscape of Modernity describes the modern development of acoustics in wonderful, and easily understood, detail." John Bishop The American Organist

"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

Publishers Weekly
In a pioneering study of America's culture of listening, University of Pennsylvania professor of the history and sociology of science Emily Thompson depicts a culture busily rationalizing, quantifying and taming sound in The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America 1900 1933. Beginning with the extraordinary (and little known) career of architectural engineer Wallace Sabine, from his felt-covered acoustical correction of the Rhode Island House of Representatives to his role in the influential design of Boston's Symphony Hall, Thompson analyzes the checkered (and ultimately futile) history of noise abatement and the implications of the introduction of electronics. Her account culminates in the design and construction of Rockefeller Center, and is powered throughout by the utopianism of the scientists, architects and engineers she depicts. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262701068
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 510
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Emily Thompson is a Professor of History at Princeton University.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction: Sound, Modernity, and History 1
Ch. 2 The Origins of Modern Acoustics 13
I Introduction: Opening Night at Symphony Hall 13
II Acoustics and Architecture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries 18
III Wallace Sabine and the Reverberation Formula 33
IV Music and the Culture of Listening in Turn-of-the-Century America 45
V Conclusion: The Critics Speak 51
Ch. 3 The New Acoustics, 1900-1933 59
I Introduction 59
II Sabine After Symphony Hall 62
III The Reverberations of "Reverberation" 81
IV New Tools: The Origins of Modern Acoustics 90
V The New Acoustician 99
VI Conclusion: Sabine Resounded 107
Ch. 4 Noise and Modern Culture, 1900-1933 115
I Introduction 115
II Noise Abatement as Acoustical Reform 120
III Noise and Modern Music 130
IV Engineering Noise Abatement 144
V Conclusion: The Failure of Noise Abatement 157
Ch. 5 Acoustical Materials and Modern Architecture, 1900-1933 169
I Introduction 169
II Acoustical Materials at the Turn of the Century 173
III Acoustical Materials and Acoustical Modernity: St. Thomas's Church 180
IV Acoustical Materials and Modern Acoustics: The New York Life Insurance Company Building 190
V Modern Architecture and Modern Acoustics: The Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building 207
VI Conclusion 227
Ch. 6 Electroacoustics and Modern Sound, 1900-1933 229
I Introduction: Opening Night at Radio City 229
II Listening to Loudspeakers: The Electroacoustic Soundscape 235
III The Modern Auditorium 248
IV Architectural Electroacoustics: Theater and Studio Design 256
V Electroacoustic Architecture: Sound Engineers and the Electrical Construction of Space 272
VI Conclusion: Reformulating Reverberation 285
Ch. 7 Conclusion: Rockefeller Center and the End of an Era 295
Coda 317
Notes 325
Bibliography 425
Index 471
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)