Sound Studies – recommended authors

Here (in no particular order) is a list of scholars who have produced work in the field of Sound Studies and Sound for the Moving Image (Film Sound if you will, although the topics are certainly not limited to that form only and may include anything from sound art installations to games) and should be considered when planning to conduct current research. The list is in no way exhaustive and aims to indicate only general directions in the field at the present moment. It is also important to note that with the exception of a few authors the majority of works listed here draws heavily on the US film and media industries, mostly originating during the first half of the 20th century. There are number of reasons why this should be considered when working on Sound Studies, not least of which is the responsibility to avoid falling in the trap of universalizing certain situated socio-politico-economic conditions to stand in for dynamics that are very different in other locations. In other words, there is a tendency to apply Ango-American paradigms which pas for universal to other locations where those paradigms do not apply. While the authors and topics listed all share a common link to the Cultural Studies tradition, there is a disciplinary divergence between the ideas discussed under the umbrella concept of Sound Studies which originate in critical theory, and Sound for the Moving Image, which has a more historical, ethnographic, or form and practice-based focus.

Lea Jacobs Jeff Smith Neil Verma Michael Slowik Helen Hanson Katherine Spring Katherine Quanz Kay Dickinson Masha Salazkina Paul Théberge Jonathan Sterne Randolph Jordan Jay Beck Charles O’Brien Other authors

Lea Jacobs

Lea Jacobs is a film scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Communication Arts

  • 2012. “A Lesson with Eisenstein: Rhythm and Pacing in Ivan the Terrible Part I.” Music and the Moving Image , Vol. 5, no. 1: 24-46.
  • 2012. “The Innovation of Re-recording in the Hollywood Studios.” Film History , Vol 24, no. 1: 5-34.
  • 2015. Film Rhythm After Sound: Technology, Music and Performance. Berkeley: University of California.

    “The seemingly effortless integration of sound, movement, and editing in films of the late 1930s stands in vivid contrast to the awkwardness of the first talkies. Film Rhythm after Sound analyzes this evolution via close examination of important prototypes of early sound filmmaking, as well as contemporary discussions of rhythm, tempo, and pacing. Jacobs looks at the rhythmic dimensions of performance and sound in a diverse set of case studies: the Eisenstein-Prokofiev collaboration Ivan the Terrible, Disney’s Silly Symphonies and early Mickey Mouse cartoons, musicals by Lubitsch and Mamoulian, and the impeccably timed dialogue in Hawks’s films. Jacobs argues that the new range of sound technologies made possible a much tighter synchronization of music, speech, and movement than had been the norm with the live accompaniment of silent films. Filmmakers in the early years of the transition to sound experimented with different technical means of achieving synchronization and employed a variety of formal strategies for creating rhythmically unified scenes and sequences. Music often served as a blueprint for rhythm and pacing, as was the case in mickey mousing, the close integration of music and movement in animation. However, by the mid-1930s, filmmakers had also gained enough control over dialogue recording and editing to utilize dialogue to pace scenes independently of the music track. Jacobs’s highly original study of early sound-film practices provides significant new contributions to the fields of film music and sound studies.”

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith is author of a number of articles related to film music, and particularly to the marketing and politics of popular music in (mostly early) Hollywood.

  • 1998. The Sounds of Commerce: Marketing Popular Film Music. New York: Columbia University Press.

    “This is a detailed historical analysis of popular music in American film, from the era of sheet music sales, to that of orchestrated pop records of the 60s and the MTV-ready pop songs from contemporary films. To investigate film and music cross-promotion, the book examines historical, economic and aesthetic factors that brought about the rise of popular music in the movies.”

Neil Verma

Neil Verma is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film, University of Northwestern, School of Communications. His research on radio programming from the golden age of radio drama has yielded a number of publications, most notably

  • Theater of the mind : imagination, aesthetics, and American radio drama. University of Chicago Press. 2012.

    “For generations, fans and critics have characterized classic American radio drama as a “theater of the mind.” This book unpacks that characterization by recasting the radio play as an aesthetic object within its unique historical context. In Theater of the Mind , Neil Verma applies an array of critical methods to more than six thousand recordings to produce a vivid new account of radio drama from the Depression to the Cold War. In this sweeping exploration of dramatic conventions, Verma investigates legendary dramas by the likes of Norman Corwin, Lucille Fletcher, and Wyllis Cooper on key programs ranging from The Columbia Workshop , The Mercury Theater on the Air, and Cavalcade of America to Lights Out! , Suspense , and Dragnet to reveal how these programs promoted and evolved a series of models of the imagination. With close readings of individual sound effects and charts of broad trends among formats, Verma not only gives us a new account of the most flourishing form of genre fiction in the mid-twentieth century but also presents a powerful case for the central place of the aesthetics of sound in the history of modern experience.”

Michael Slowik

Michael Slowik is a film historian at the School of Theatre, Television, and Film, San Diego State. His work focuses on early sound aesthetics and practices in the American film industry.

  • Capturing the American Past: The Cowboy Song and the Archive. Journal of American Culture. Sep 2012, Vol. 35 Issue 3, p207-218. 12p.
  • Controlling Terror: The Representation of December 7th and September 11th in Film. Quarterly Review of Film & Video. Experiments in Early Sound Film Music: Strategies and Rerecording, 1928–1930, American Music. Vol. 31 Issue 4. 2013, p450-474. 25p 15p.
  • Diegetic withdrawal and other worlds: film music strategies before King Kong, 1927-1933. Cinema Journal. Fall, 2013, Vol. 53 Issue 1, p1, 25 p
  • After the silents [electronic resource] : Hollywood film music in the early sound era, 1926-1934. Columbia University Press. 2014′

    “Many believe Max Steiner’s score for King Kong (1933) was the first important attempt at integrating background music into sound film, but a closer look at the industry’s early sound era (1926-1934) reveals a more extended and fascinating story. Viewing more than two hundred films from the period, Michael Slowik launches the first comprehensive study of a long-neglected phase in Hollywood’s initial development, recasting the history of film sound and its relationship to the “Golden Age” of film music (1935-1950). Slowik follows filmmakers’ shifting combinations of sound and image, recapturing the volatility of this era and the variety of film music strategies that were tested, abandoned, and kept. He explores early film music experiments and accompaniment practices in opera, melodrama, musicals, radio, and silent films and discusses the impact of the advent of synchronized dialogue. He concludes with a reassessment of King Kong and its groundbreaking approach to film music, challenging the film’s place and importance in the timeline of sound achievement. “

Helen Hanson

Helen Hanson is a senior lecturer at Exeter, UK.

  • Sound Affects: Post-production Sound, Soundscapes and Sound Design in Hollywood’s Studio Era. Music, sound, and the moving image. Spring 2007, Vol. 1 Issue 1, p27-49, 23p
  • Hollywood Soundscapes: Film Sound Style, Craft and Production 1931-1950. BFI. Forthcoming.

Katherine Spring

Katherine Spring is at Wilfrid Laurier, Dept. of English and Film Studies.

  • Saying It With Songs: Popular Music and the Coming of Sound to Hollywood Cinema. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    “Hollywood’s conversion from silent to synchronized sound film production not only instigated the convergence of the film and music industries but also gave rise to an extraordinary period of songs in American cinema. Saying It With Songs considers how the increasing interdependence of Hollywood studios and Tin Pan Alley music publishing firms influenced the commercial and narrative functions of popular songs. While most scholarship on film music of the period focuses on adaptations of Broadway musicals, this book examines the functions of songs in a variety of non-musical genres, including melodramas, romantic comedies, Westerns, prison dramas, and action-adventure films, and shows how filmmakers tested and refined their approach to songs in order to reconcile the spectacle of song performance, the classical norms of storytelling, and the conventions of background orchestral scoring from the period of silent cinema. Written for film and music scholars alike as well as for general readers, Saying It With Songs illuminates the origins of the popular song score aesthetic of American cinema.”

  • “Sounding Glocal: Synthesizer Scores in Hong Kong Action Cinema.” Examining Cultural Flows: Chinese-language and American Cinemas. Eds. Lisa Funnell and Man-fung Yip. New York: Routledge (October 2014).
  • “Walk This Way: The Pedagogical Value of Soundwalking to the Study of Film Sound.” Spec. issue of Music and the Moving Image 5.2 (Summer 2012): 34-42.
  • “‘To Sustain Illusion is All That is Necessary’: The Authenticity of Song Performance in Early American Sound Cinema.” Beyond Vitaphone: The Early Sound Short. Spec. issue of Film History: An International Journal 23.3 (2011): 285-99.
  • “Chance Encounters of the Musical Kind: Electronica and Audiovisual Synchronization in Three Films Directed by Tom Tykwer.” Music and the Moving Image 3.3 (2010): n. pag. Web. 15 Aug. 2011.

Katherine Quanz

Katherine is currently a PhD candidate at Wilfrid Laurier, under the supervision of Katherine Spring. Her area of research incorporates what has come to be known as Industry Studies in the Humanities, or the ways industrial practices and organization influence the creation and meaning of cultural artifacts. Her upcoming dissertation is entitled Canadian Soundscapes: Technology and Sound in Canadian Science Fiction and Horror from 1968-2012

  • Pro Tools, Playback, and the Value of Postproduction Sound Labor In Canada. The Velvet Light Trap. Vol. 76 Issue 1. 2015, p37-48. 12p

Kay Dickinson

Kay Dickinson is a film scholar at Concordia University and one of the few on this list who reaches beyond the Anglo-American cultural comfort zone. While her current work focuses on the cinemas of the Middle East, she has also published a good deal on film music:

  • Off Key: When Film and Music Won’t Work Together. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    “In Off Key, Kay Dickinson offers a compelling study of how certain alliances of music and film are judged aesthetic failures. Based on a fascinating and wide-ranging body of film-music mismatches, and using contemporary reviews and histories of the turn to post-industrialization, the book expands the ways in which the union of the film and music businesses can be understood. Moving beyond the typical understanding of film music that privileges the score, Off Key also incorporates analyses of rock ‘n’ roll movies, composer biopics, and pop singers crossing over into acting. By doing this, it provides a fuller picture of how two successful entertainment sectors have sought out synergistic strategies, ones whose alleged “failures” have much to tell about the labor practices of the creative industries, as well as our own relationship to them and to work itself. A provocative and politically-conscious look at music-image relations, Off Key will appeal to students and scholars of film music, cinema studies, media studies, cultural studies, and labor history. “
  • The Arab Avant-Garde: Musical Innovation in the Middle East. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2013. Co-editor with Thomas Burkhalter and Benjamin J. Harbert and contributor of chapter:“‘Arab’ ‘Avant-Garde’”
  • Movie Music, The Film Reader. London: Routledge, 2002.ISBN: 0415281601 Sole editor and contributor of chapter: “Pop and Speed: Compilation Soundtracks and the MTV Aesthetic” p.143-152

Masha Salazkina

Masha Salazkina, professor in Film and Moving Image Studies at Concordia, is a scholar of transnational media and her compilation of essays on Soviet Sound is part of a greater project to foreground academic traditions that depart or are parallel to the so far predominating French-Anglo-American film scholarship.

  • Sound, speech, music in Soviet and post-Soviet cinema. Edited by Lilya Kaganovsky and Masha Salazkina. Indiana University Press. 2014.

    “This innovative volume challenges the ways we look at both cinema and cultural history by shifting the focus from the centrality of the visual and the literary toward the recognition of acoustic culture as formative of the Soviet and post-Soviet experience. Leading experts and emerging scholars from film studies, musicology, music theory, history, and cultural studies examine the importance of sound in Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet cinema from a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives. Addressing the little-known theoretical and artistic experimentation with sound in Soviet cinema, changing practices of voice delivery and translation, and issues of aesthetic ideology and music theory, this book explores the cultural and historical factors that influenced the use of voice, music, and sound on Soviet and post-Soviet screens.”

Paul Théberge

Paul Théberge published the bulk of his work in the 1990s, but continues to be an influential figure in the Sound and Cultural Studies area as an interdisciplinary scholar at Carleton, focusing on technology and music.

  • Any sound you can imagine : making music/consuming technology. University Press of New England. 1997.

    “Describes digital musical instruments, industries that supply and promote them, and the meanings they have for musicians.”

Jonathan Sterne

Jonathan Sterne is a professor in culture and technology in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill. In Monreal, for some time now, he has been the go-to Sound Studies guru, reflected in his wide-ranging explorations of the meaning behind various notions of everyday sound culture that we take for granted.

  • MP3: The Meaning of a Format (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).
  • The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).

    The Audible Past explores the cultural origins of sound reproduction. It describes a distinctive sound culture that gave birth to the sound recording and the transmission devices so ubiquitous in modern life. With an ear for the unexpected, scholar and musician Jonathan Sterne uses the technological and cultural precursors of telephony, phonography, and radio as an entry point into a history of sound in its own right. Sterne studies the constantly shifting boundary between phenomena organized as “sound” and “not sound.” In “The Audible Past, “this history crisscrosses the liminal regions between bodies and machines, originals and copies, nature and culture, and life and death. Blending cultural studies and the history of communication technology, Sterne follows modern sound technologies back through a historical labyrinth. Along the way, he encounters capitalists and inventors, musicians and philosophers, embalmers and grave robbers, doctors and patients, deaf children and their teachers, professionals and hobbyists, folklorists and tribal singers. “The Audible Past “tracks the connections between the history of sound and the defining features of modernity: from developments in medicine, physics, and philosophy to the tumultuous shifts of industrial capitalism, colonialism, urbanization, modern technology, and the rise of a new middle class. A provocative history of sound, “The Audible Past” challenges theoretical commonplaces such as the philosophical privilege of the speaking subject, the visual bias in theories of modernity, and static descriptions of nature. It will interest those in cultural studies, media and communication studies, the new musicology, and the history of technology.”
  • The Sound Studies Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 2012)
  • Essays:

Randolph Jordan

Randolph bears the torch of a long tradition of ‘soundscape’ artists and researchers that began in the 1960s with R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project, to which he ads his film scholarly savvy. In a relatively short time he has churned out a large amount of both scholarly and journalistic work, perhaps best characterized by his continuous dedication to acoustic ecology and the notion of ‘schizophonia‘.

Jay Beck

Jay Beck is a professor of cinema and media studied at Carleton (Minnesota, USA), an influential film sound scholar with a number of widely-read publications.

  • Beck, Jay. Designing Sound: Audiovisual Aesthetics in 1970s American Cinema (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016).
  • Beck, Jay. “Submerged in Sound: Lucrecia Martel’s La ciénaga.” The Cine-Files no. 8 (Spring 2015).
  • Beck, Jay. “The Democratic Voice: Robert Altman’s Sound Aesthetics in the 1970s.” In A Companion to Robert Altman, edited by Adrian Danks. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.
  • Beck, Jay, with Vanessa Theme Ament. “The New Hollywood, 1981-1999.” In Sound: Dialogue, Music and Effects, edited by Kathryn Kalinak. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015.
  • Beck, Jay. “Sound Studies in a Liberal Arts Curriculum.” Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier 2, no. 2 (Spring 2014).
  • Beck, Jay. “Acoustic Auteurs and Transnational Cinema.” In The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media, edited by Carol Vernallis, Amy Herzog, and John Richardson, 732-751. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Beck, Jay. “The Evolution of Sound in Cinema.” In The Routledge Companion to Film History, edited by William Guynn, 64-77. New York: Routledge, 2010.
  • Beck, Jay. “William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and the Proprietary Nature of Sound.” Cinephile vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 4-10.
  • Beck, Jay, and Tony Grajeda, eds. Lowering the Boom: Critical Studies in Film Sound. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Charles O’Brien

Charles O’Brien teaches in the Film Studies department at Carleton (Ottawa, Canada)

  • “The Exception and the Norm: Relocating Renoir’s Sound and Music.” In The Blackwell Companion to Jean Renoir, eds. Ginette Vincendeau and Alastair Phillips (Hoboken and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013). 33-52.
  • “The ‘Cinematisation’ of Sound Cinema in Britain:  The Dubbing into French of Hitchcock’s Waltzes from Vienna.” In Je t’aime…moi non plus: Anglo-French Cinematic Relations, eds. Lucy Mazdon and Catherine Wheatley.  New York and Oxford:  Berghahn Books, 2010. 37-49.
  • Cinema’s conversion to sound : technology and film style in France and the U.S. Indiana University Press. 2005.

    “The conversion to sound cinema is routinely portrayed as a homogenizing process that significantly reduced the cinema’s diversity of film styles and practices. Cinema’s Conversion to Sound offers an alternative assessment of synchronous sound’s impact on world cinema through a shift in critical focus: in contrast to film studies’ traditional exclusive concern with the film image, the book investigates national differences in sound-image practice in a revised account of the global changeover from silent to sound cinema. Extending beyond recent Hollywood cinema, Charles O’Brien undertakes a geo-historical inquiry into sound technology’s diffusion across national borders. Through an analysis that juxtaposes French and American filmmaking, he reveals the aesthetic consequences of fundamental national differences in how sound technologies were understood. Whereas the emphasis in 1930s Hollywood was on sound’s intelligibility within a film’s story-world, the stress in French filmmaking was on sound’s fidelity as reproduction of the event staged for recording.”

Other authors

Further sources can be drawn from the heavy-hitters in traditional Film Sound Theory such as Rick Altman and Michel Chion. For Media Archeology and Media Studies, refer to Karin Bijsterveld, and for Media History to Elena Razlogova (see The listener’s voice: early radio and the American public. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2011)