“Persuasion in the Air”:
Psychology, Phonographs, and New Cultures of Listening at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century
Alexandra Hui (Mississipi State University, USA)*
Dilluns 22 de juny de 2015 18.30h
Lloc: Residència d’Investigadors (CSIC-Generalitat de Catalunya)
c/ Hospital, 64. 08001 Barcelona
Organitzen: Annette Mülberger (CEHIC-UAB) i Jon Arrizabalaga (IMF-CSIC)
* Dr. Alexandra Hui is a historian of science interested in physics, psychology and the human sciences, medicine and mental illness and 19th- and 20th-century history of visual arts and music works. She was a UCLA teaching fellow before coming to Mississippi State University in 2008. In 2012 she published her book on "The Psychophysical Ear: Musical Experiments, Experimental Sounds, 1840-1910" (The MIT Press) and one year later she received a major National Science Foundation grant. This presentation will be drawn from Hui’s current monograph project, Sonifying Space: A History of the Science of Background Music. At its core it is a history of listening. It takes as its departure point the often-maligned music of waiting spaces that has become more ubiquitous than ever: background music (also known as environmental music or Muzak). In the twentieth century, new technology liberated the listener from a temporally- and site-specific experience of music. This separation contributed to new understandings and manipulations of the soundscape. Hui will discuss the Mood Change Test developed by Thomas Edison and the experimental psychologist Walter Bingham, worker satisfaction surveys, and efficiency studies performed by the Muzak Corporation towards an understanding of how the goals of functional psychology contributed to a new kind of listening at the beginning of the twentieth century. More generally, Hui asks how the co-development of new forms of listening and new music technologies informed larger questions about the relationship between individuals’ and communities’ understanding of their environment and their (often indirect) experience of it. Science contributed to a new musical aesthetic and a new form of listening in a very explicit and deliberate way, contributing to the development of new sounds and new listening practices, fundamentally altering the soundscape of the twentieth century.