Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

This class examines the ways humans experience the realm of sound and how perceptions and technologies of sound emerge from cultural, economic, and historical worlds. In addition to learning about how environmental, linguistic, and musical sounds are construed cross-culturally, students learn about the rise of telephony, architectural acoustics, and sound recording, as well as about the globalized travel of these technologies. Questions of ownership, property, authorship, and copyright in the age of digital file sharing are also addressed. A major concern will be with how the sound/noise boundary has been imagined, created, and modeled across diverse sociocultural and scientific contexts. Auditory examples — sound art, environmental recordings, music — will be provided and invited throughout the term.

Required Books

Buy at Amazon Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1985. ISBN: 9780816612871.

Buy at Amazon Bull, Michael, and Les Back, eds. The Auditory Culture Reader. Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers, 2004. ISBN: 9781859736180.


Students will write three 7-page papers, on the subjects of sound word, sound technology, and sonic communities. The sonic communities papers will also be presented in class on the last day. No emailed papers will be accepted. Papers are docked by a letter grade for each day they are late. Students will also be evaluated on class participation, including discussion and in-class writing exercises. Punctual attendance is obligatory. There will not be a final exam.

Grading Policy

Paper 1 25%
Paper 2 25%
Paper 3 25%
Class participation: discussion and in-class writing 25%



1 Course introduction    
2 Thinking about sound    
3 Acoustemologies    


Soundwalk at MIT

5 Voices   Sound word paper due

Telephones and radio

Soundscapes, revisited through sound sculpture

Beth Coleman, Comparative Media Studies, MIT  
7 Phonograph and gramophone records, compact discs, MP3s Kieran Downes, History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society, MIT  
8 Sound, culture, property Ian Condry, Foreign Languages and Literatures, MIT  
9 A political economy of sound and noise Andres Lombana, Comparative Media Studies, MIT  
10 The sound of music Peter Whincop, Music, Harvard University / Music and Theatre Arts, MIT Sound technology paper due
11 Sonic publics    
12 Styles of silence    
13 The sounds of science Dale Joachim, Media Lab, MIT  
14 Class presentations of sonic communities paper   Sonic communities paper due