The Acoustic City is a 224-page book that includes a 75-minute CD. One can imagine it as required reading for sound studies students, but it possesses the same readability as Angus Carlyle and Cathy Lane’s On Listening and In the Field: The Art of Field Recording. As such, it is recommended to anyone is interested in sound ecology, particularly those who have enjoyed other works in this category.
While many included topics will be familiar to readers of this site, the essays yield numerous surprises as well. The “primer” issues include the modern adaptation of bird species, the disappearance of sound environments, the intrusion of plane noise, and noise as a political weapon. R. Murray Schafer, John Cage and J.G. Ballard receive the expected attention. But within these pages, one also finds thought-provoking essays on newer, more specific topics. In “Soft Coercion, the City, and the Recorded Female Voice”, Nina Power addresses Siri, train announcements and the mechanization of the female voice. David Novak’s “A Beautiful Noise Emerging from the Apparatus of an Obstacle: Trains and the Sounds of the Japanese City” hints at the human capacity for sonic adaptation: “While the interiors of trains are inherently noisy places, Japanese riders tend to fall asleep, somehow rising and disembarking just as they arrive at their desired station.” Inaudible sounds are addressed by Kate E. Jones and Kelly Ladd, the former writing of bats and the latter of weaponry. Leandro Minuchin explores the relatively new practice of cacerolazos (pot banging as political protest) in Latin America. Other essays address topics as diverse as boom boxes, Goa trance, and strangely enough, Van Halen.
The CD contains a wide selection of new sounds, as well as a selection of mostly unpublished works from the past decade. These lean more toward field recordings and soundscapes than songs, although a couple exceptions are made toward the end. The most effective pieces include David Novak’s “Osaka Train Station” (put it on repeat as you read the essay!), Schneider TM’s “Escalator Transformator” (a combination of the sound sources in the title), Yui Onodera’s “Anonymous Soundscape” and co-editor BJ Nilsen’s “Hampstead Heath”. Nuns, bats and woodpeckers are also included, providing a richness of sound that would be difficult to find on a single-artist recording. In the end, the book and CD serve as comprehensive samplers, providing an entry point into the discipline for newcomers and a host of debate topics for veterans of the scene. (Richard Allen)