Tag Archives: noise

Book Review: Victorian Soundscapes by John M. Picker

Victorian Soundscapes book cover

One of the most engaging books on sound I’ve read this year, “Victorian Soundscapes” examines the changing attitudes toward sound throughout the Victorian era by concentrating on the literature of the time. While previous knowledge of the written works referred to would obviously make this book’s conclusions even clearer than they already are, prior knowledge of the texts discussed isn’t necessary. Some of the works analyzed include Dickens’ “Dombey and Son,” George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Voice of Science,” Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Along the way, other writings and events woven into the analysis include the writings on acoustics by Hermann von Helmhotz; the anti-immigrant cartoons of Punch magazine’s John Leech; the far-fetched theories about sound and the atmosphere put forth by father of the computer Charles Babbage; the saga of Thomas Carlyle’s attempt to design and build the first soundproof study in London; the histories of the development of the telephone, phonograph, and gramophone; and the origin of the painting “His Master’s Voice” featuring the Victor Dog. Continue reading

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The murmuring crowd swirls, ebbs, parts
factions flocking from gallery to doorway
finally leaving me alone with
the interred (installed) body of the old woman: wife, mother, and grandmother
now dry with natron, wrapped in linen,
arms extended, palms on thighs,
eyelids painted with false eyes, always staring but never seeing.

Overhead, a dying light fixture
buzzing, flickering, humming
as I stare into the once-new vitrine that acts as
a surrogate coffin, yet another “final” resting place
waiting to be replaced.

How many others have stood
beneath this same electric light (it was brighter and steadier then)
gazing at this same dessicated face
within the dusty glass sarcophagus, and also wondered at their ability to touch
a capsule filled with mute history? Who else has thought those ancient lips 
look like torn strips of parchment
containing stories forever untold? 

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Sitting in a busy cafe, I am surrounded by sonic chaos: the grinding hiss of an espresso machine, the relentless chug of techno music on the sound system, the clinking of silverware, the thick walls of conversations vying for prominence within the din. The usual rules of sonic navigation no longer apply — Continue reading