the acoustics of a mushroom cloud


“A Noiseless Flash” is how journalist John Hersey titled the first chapter of Hiroshima, his much-praised 1946 account of the detonation of the atomic bomb. Though witnesses some twenty miles away claimed that the explosion was as loud as thunder, none of the survivors interviewed by Hersey recalled hearing “any noise of the bomb.” Rather, they experienced a blinding flash of light and sudden swells of pressure. Destruction has its ready-made catalogue of images, but we rarely think about the acoustics of a mushroom cloud or falling towers. Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare is a vital contribution to how we theorize the relationship between sound and politics, and its central argument echoes Hersey’s reportage: You need not hear a sound in order to feel it. Dissatisfied with traditional examinations of politicized sound pegged to music—a catchy protest song, a discordant blast of countercultural noise—and the role of human perception, Goodman focuses on frequencies, rhythms, vibrations, sonic-boom-inducing “sound bombs,” and in-audible, high-frequency repellants used to quell rowdy teens. For Goodman, discussing the politics of sound demands that we move beyond conventional ideas of audience and reception. Even the ugliest song is recognizable as music—good or bad. Goodman is interested in sound as force.

more from Hua Hsu in Bookforum here.