Academic journal article Current Musicology

Hillel Schwartz. 2011. Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond

Academic journal article Current Musicology

Hillel Schwartz. 2011. Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond

Article excerpt

Hillel Schwartz. 2011. Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond. Brooklyn: Zone Books.

Hillel Schwartz's Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond is not merely a text to be read; it's also an object to be grappled with. One must create space for it, adopt a proper reading posture to accommodate it, and listen to it--both to the words on the pages and to the pages themselves. At 9 1/4 in. x 6 1/4 in. x 2 3/8 in., Making Noise is not the kind of book one can easily tuck into a bag for subway reading. In fact, in the two months I spent working through the text, not once did I manage to find sufficient spare space in my bag to lug it to school or to a coffee shop; consequently, I read the book entirely in my apartment--in a familiar and relatively quiet acoustic environment, which may have set Schwartz's babble and bang into acoustic relief. In addition, Making Noise is not the kind of book one can easily read while lying on the couch; its 2.5 pounds tired my wrists far too quickly. As a result, I read the entire book sitting or standing up, or while lying on my stomach on the living room carpet. I never experienced Schwartz with my head cocooned in a pillow, down and cloth providing acoustic insulation. Consequently, as I read, I became more conscious of the symphony of white noises--humming refrigerators and whirring hard drives--filling my seemingly quiet Brooklyn apartment.

The main text alone is 859 pages; with the index, it is 912. Yet even that number doesn't include all bibliographic components. Because of the book's length, the publisher decided to make the 349 pages of endnotes, along with a 51-page bibliography of "noisy" children's books (including a panoply of intriguing titles, such as Don't Wake the Baby and Croak! Hoot! Squeak! Buzz!), downloadable from the Zones Books website. I regard the endnotes, when they're more than mere citations, as an integral part of any text; when I read I typically maintain two bookmarks--one in the main text, one in the end matter--so that I can continually reference relevant notes and citations. With Schwartz's book, I often found myself so intrigued by a particular tale or provoked by a specific claim that I sought to follow his trail of inquiry by consulting his source material. Alas, the printed text itself required such a physical commitment that I simply couldn't manage simultaneous consultation of the endnotes. I couldn't keep running back and forth from reading chair to computer, or juggling the physical book and an iPad full of notes. As a result, in the moment of reading, I missed the fecund end matter and lost an opportunity to hear the myriad voices informing and foretelling the arrival of Schwartz's noisy tale.

Yet a subsequent perusal of the endnotes revealed the astounding range of resources that the author consulted over the course of two decades. According to the book's distributor, MIT Press, Schwartz drew upon

   such diverse sources as the archives of antinoise activists and
   radio advertisers, catalogs of fireworks and dental drills, letters
   and daybooks of physicists and physicians, military manuals and
   training films, travel diaries and civil defense pamphlets, as well
   as museum collections of bells, ear trumpets, megaphones, sirens,
   stethoscopes, and street organs. (n.d.)

Published resources include scholarly texts from, among countless fields, anthropology, architecture, art history, biology, literature, material culture, musicology, otology, physics, sensory history, soundscape studies, urban history, and, my own field, media studies--and scholars and practitioners from all of these fields constitute the book's potential audience. We can hear the work of Emily Thompson, Jonathan Sterne, Jacques Attali, Mark M. Smith, Alain Corbin and countless others echoing throughout Making Noise, and perhaps placed in conversation with one another for the first time. Given the breadth and eclecticism of his resources, Schwartz's work represents a monumental convergence of often disparate voices on sound and noise. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.