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 Media brings 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.
"This is an eye-opening if not game-changing book. Readers will be startled, as I was, that eco-criticism and sound studies go together, but I'm now convinced that they do. Smith's talents as a writer and researcher who is able to pull great examples seemingly out of the air and then get them to work together on the page make Eco-Sonic Media a book that deserves a wide audience."
– Lisa Gitelman, author of Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents
"Eco-Sonic Media is a brilliant book: impressively researched, wonderfully written, timely, and innovative. Drawing on the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities, Jacob Smith rewrites the history of recorded sound in terms of its contributions to electronic waste and associated environmental problems, highlighting the role of media in our current ecological crisis. Eco-Sonic Media will make a huge mark on sound studies and media studies, but it deserves a significant readership beyond these fields."
– Toby Miller, coauthor of Greening the Media
"Who knew that the making of early phonographs relied on the Indian lac insect, that caged canaries served as recording devices, or that radio could bring the sounds of planetary forces and species extinction to the ear? Eco-Sonic Media awakens our senses to the interspecies relations and biomaterials that have made the history of sound recording possible. This green media archaeology is bound to reverberate widely and transform the way people think about and hear recorded sound."
– Lisa Parks, author of Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual
"After Jacob Smith's Eco-Sonic Media, it is impossible to think of records without insects; ambiance without birds; the surface of the earth without divination; and radio without the end of the earth. In this very creative book, Smith brings an insistent ecological consciousness to the study of sound and media, revolutionizing our understanding of sound and ecology in the process, and asking after alternative, more minimalistic media practices. Smith studies sonic media "up, down, and sideways," moving between close readings of recordings, geo- and eco-political histories of technology, the delicate relationships among humans and animals. After reading this book and completing some of the inventive exercises at the end (purchase of a songbird is optional), you will think differently about sound, technology and ecology."
– Jonathan Sterne, author of MP3: The Meaning of a Format and The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction
1. Green Discs
2. Birdland Melodies
3. Subterranean Signals
4. Radio’s Dark Ecology
The Run-Out Groove
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Jacob Smith is Associate Professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at the School of Communication at Northwestern University. He is the author of Vocal Tracks: Performance and Sound Media, Spoken Word: Postwar American Phonograph Cultures, and The Thrill Makers: Celebrity, Masculinity, and Stunt Performance (all from UC Press).