Please note that this product is not available for purchase from Bloomsbury. It provides a careful consideration of the performative dynamics inherent to sound culture and acts of listening, and discusses how auditory studies may illuminate understandings of contemporary society. Combining research on urbanism, popular culture and auditory issues, Acoustic Territories opens up multiple perspectives - it challenges debates surrounding noise pollution and charts an "acoustic politics of space" by unfolding auditory experience as located within larger cultural histories and related ideologies. Brandon LaBelle traces auditory life through a topographic structure: beginning with underground territories, through to the home as a site, and then further, to streets and neighborhoods, and finally to the sky itself.
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How do we begin to delineate space? How do we bound it? As numerous philosophers and cultural geographers have found, spatial nominalization and delimitation, the naming and taming of space, are more geared towards describing place and places. Where places have names and seemingly fixed borders, space is blurred and unknowable. Even so, it is always thinkable, always a condition of our being in the world.
As we move through space or reflect on it, there remains a constant desire to divide it into other spaces. All the time, of course, the writer never really left the scene of writing, nor the reader the scene of reading.
Essentially, though, LaBelle is concerned with the interrelation of a variety of sonic spaces and with the ways in which sound is not merely something that occupies space, but rather one of the main ways in which space is constituted and, in turn, constitutes its occupants.
For a theoryhead, it is fascinating to follow the connections LaBelle makes and to perhaps add their own. Those less inclined to such speculative explorations may well be annoyed with this work.
Rather, this is a book about sound, noise, and the acoustic. LaBelle also takes us into the soundspace of the car and to the Muzak-filled non-places of the shopping mall and airport.
This is not so much due to the theories that the author draws upon as it is his occasional inability to communicate them and his tendency to follow connections to almost breaking point. The connection between underground railway systems and underground music scenes, for example, just about holds together but it is mainly due to fancy linguistic play that further complicates some already rather convoluted points.
LaBelle shares the complexity of many of the poststructuralist authors whose theories he draws upon while lacking their poetic flare. It is very difficult to follow the connections between domestic space as imagined so eloquently by Gaston Bachelard, the use of silence to discipline prisoners Michel Foucault is brought in to help here , and the danger of noise as theorized by Michel Serres.
The difficulty is compounded, here and through much of the book, by certain over-used rhetorical tics and occasionally dubious word grammar. That said, LaBelle just about pulls it off and manages, at the end of the chapter, to draw a number of strands together to make the compelling argument about acoustic violence and the ethics of noise.
Chapter 3 provides a smoother read, perhaps due to this part of the book having already been through the editorial mill in preparation for a previous publication. Perhaps it just takes one to know one. Yet I also write as someone who, reading this book in the middle of a sleepless night while torrential rain splashed against the roof and windows and dripped an uncanny cacophony onto an upturned bucket in the garden outside, felt that its author was on to something very important.
And one of the most important things that Acoustic Territories insists upon is that, far from being merely something that takes place in, occupies, or evokes space, sound is inherently spatial and determines to an often unacknowledged extent our very sense of locatedness. On this line of thinking, sound and sense become indistinguishable. The agonism performed by this rather strangulated text is perhaps indicative of the difficulties of bounding space.
The fantasy of a smooth drift between coterminous sites or the possibility to switch from one site to another at the speed of thought or at least the speed of telecommunication remains, for now, the realm of cyberfiction.
The difficulty of dealing with space is reinforced at the end of the book when it closes seemingly midway through an argument and, against established scholarly practice, with a quotation. It is as if there is no way to conclude a discussion of space, no possibility to box or bound it. We can only provisionally pin it down, take a reading or sounding, and move on.
Lecture: Brandon LaBelle, 20 May 2015