New book explores the relationship between sound and space


The relationship between sound and space has become central to both creative practices in music and sound art and contemporary scholarship on sound. Entire subfields have emerged in connection to the spatial aspects of sound, from spatial audio and sound installation to acoustic ecology and soundscape studies. But how did our understanding of sound become spatial?

That is the question which Gascia Ouzounian, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Music, seeks to answer in her new book Stereophonica: Sound and Space in Science, Technology, and the Arts (MIT Press). In the book, Professor Ouzounian examines a series of historical episodes that transformed ideas of sound and space, from the advent of stereo technologies in the nineteenth century to visual representations of sonic environments today.

Professor Ouzounian says: “I’m delighted that Stereophonica: Sound and Space in Science, Technology, and the Arts has just been released by MIT Press. It is the result of over 10 years of research, including in difficult-to-access military and corporate archives. It uncovers a great deal of previously unpublished information on military acoustics research during the First and Second World Wars, focusing on acoustic defence and sonic warfare: topics that have only been skimmed in the academic literature. 

“However, it also tackles a range of topics in the arts, including early experiments in stereophony, spatial music, sound installation art, sound mapping, and more. It is reader-friendly and generously illustrated with photographs, drawings, maps, and diagrams. I hope people will enjoy this adventure in the history of acoustic and auditory spatiality!”

Developing a uniquely interdisciplinary perspective, Professor Ouzounian draws on both the history of science and technology and the history of music and sound art. She investigates the binaural apparatus - a technique of recording sound - that allowed nineteenth-century listeners to observe sound in three dimensions. She examines the development of military technologies for sound location during World War I. 

The book also revisits experiments in stereo sound at Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1930s, and considers the creation of “optimized acoustical environments” for theatres and factories. Professor Ouzounian then explores the development of multichannel “spatial music” in the 1950s and sound installation art in the 1960s; analyzes the mapping of soundscapes; and investigates contemporary approaches to sonic urbanism, sonic practices that reimagine urban environments through sound. 

You can find more information about the book here.

You can read more about Professor Ouzounian's research here.

Or follow her on Twitter.