Asian Sound Cultures Voice, Noise, Sound, Technology

PDF Asian Sound Cultures Voice, Noise, Sound, Technology Copyright Year 2023

Book author
  1. Christin Hoene
  2. Iris Haukamp
  3. Martyn David Smith
Asian Sound Cultures


This book examines the meanings, uses, and agency of voice, noise, sound, and sound technologies across Asia.

Including a series of wide-ranging and interdisciplinary case studies, the book reveals sound as central to the experience of modernity in Asia and as essential to the understanding of the historical processes of cultural, social, political, and economic transformation throughout the long twentieth century. Presenting a broad range of topics—from the changing sounds of the Kyoto kimono-making industry to radio in late colonial India—the book explores how the study of Asian sound cultures offers greater insight into historical accounts of local and global transformation.

Challenging us to rethink and reassemble important categories in sound studies, this book will be a vital resource for students and scholars of sound studies, Asian studies, history, postcolonial studies, and media studies.

Iris Haukamp is Associate Professor in Japanese Film at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan. Her research interests include interwar cinema, international co-productions, and local film culture.

Christin Hoene is Assistant Professor in Literary Studies at Maastricht University, Netherlands. Her research spans modern and contemporary anglophone literature, with a particular focus on postcolonial literature, sound studies, word and music studies, and queer theory.

Martyn David Smith is a historian of modern and contemporary Japan and Lecturer in Japanese Studies at the University of Sheffield, UK. His recent research takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of sound and the history of technology in Japan and Asia and his long-standing research inter- ests cover national identity, nationalism, gender, the mass media, and con- sumer society in Japan and East Asia.

Introducing Asian Sound Cultures
Iris Haukamp, Christin Hoene
and Martyn David Smith


Sound, modernity, and Asia

In this book, we bring together studies on sound in Asia by scholars from various backgrounds, and at various stages of their academic careers, working on and—in many cases—from Asia. By examining the meanings, uses, and agency of voice, noise, sound, and sound technology from across a wide geographical region, the chapters challenge us to rethink and reassemble categories such as sound and power, technology and imperialism, voice and its interrelations with politics, noise and modernity, the relationship between the global and the local in modernity, as well as the dominant binaries of West/ East or North/South, and colonial versus postcolonial. The work presented in this book acknowledges an important juncture in the study of sound brought about by the rapid increase of interest in and publications related to it. Whether we understand sound studies as an academic field or as a tool available to multiple disciplines (Hilmes 2005), research on sound covers numerous fields of research, differing historical and geographical contexts, and the challenging of familiar theoretical concepts (Smith 1994; Smith 2003). In particular, over the last decade or so, the geographical range of sound studies has rapidly broadened, and in this context, this book tackles the urgent question of how we account for the shared experience of the con- struction of modern sound whilst thinking it through and beyond the point of difference.

If sound is a substance of the world, it is also an essential element in how people frame their knowledge of that world (Novak and Sakakeeny 2015, 2). Yet, despite increasing in geographical scope, studies of sound have too often been restricted to comparisons between European countries or between the European experience and that of the United States. Although much work on the West highlights national differences and brings out developments that have taken different trajectories and followed differing chronologies, the conclusions often highlight common ways of hearing, controlling, reproducing, and ultimately thinking about sound that stem from ‘shared similarities’ in experiences of modernity (Morat 2014, 3). This is, of course, as Sheldon Garon has noted (2017), an affliction of the transnational historical project more broadly. Nevertheless, as sound studies become increasingly consolidated into a field of study, scholars need to be aware that the process of establishing and defining key terms must avoid repeating the historical danger that by ‘imposing categories of meaning particular to Europe’, modern academic disciplines have often rendered ‘all other societies colonies of Europe’ (Conrad 2016, 4).

The ‘colonisation’ of the study of sound is evident in the numerous histories of technologies of sound as ‘modern western technology’, and in sonic ontologies and philosophies of sound that privilege an Enlightenment separation of the somatic from the psychological that has in turn relegated aurality behind the intense visuality of modern life and material culture. As Gavin Steingo and Jim Sykes argue, research on non-western cultures throughout the twentieth century has been haunted by the positioning of non-western peoples ‘as closer to sound and hearing than their European counterparts’ (2019, 3). Jonathan Sterne’s recognition and problematisation of the ‘audiovisual litany’ (2012, 9) demonstrates the extent to which the relegation of sound and aurality behind the visual in accounts of modernity is imbued with colonial binaries that are cultural prejudices elevated to the level of theory. The identification of the visual as modern and western is maintained by the othering of auditory cultures. Linking modernity with visuality has helped to establish some of the most ingrained cultural oppositions between us and them (Sterne 2012, 9–10).

At the same time, the increasing volume of work on sound and auditory cultures means that keywords and approaches to sound in the humanities and social sciences are becoming increasingly standardised theoretical and conceptual tools. Unfortunately, as sound studies begin to take shape as a field, ways of thinking with and about sound articulated by experiences outside the West—including methods and examples that involve challenges to the mode of narrating what counts as a proper sound—are ‘conspicuously absent from the description of its disciplinary formation’ (Ochoa Gautier 2019, 263). And as Ana María Ochoa Gautier warns us, the problem is that the early promise for sound studies of challenging, disrupting, or even dismantling the problematic binaries of the ‘audiovisual litany’ is now at risk of depoliticising the very process of change by a homogenisation of its key theoretical terms. As a discipline, sound studies risks becoming colonised because of the contemporary imperial, neoliberal, institutional structure of academic production, recognition, and citation that articulate the global governance of the capacity to name the emergence of a field (Ochoa Gautier 2019, 262–264). The task facing those who work on or through sound is to shape a field that can remain as open to interpretation and as diffuse in nature and geography as the object of study itself.

Asian Sound Cultures adds to a growing body of work, then, that challenges western universalism in the humanities through sound and contributes to the expansion of the cartography of global modernity in sound studies. The contributors to Steingo’s and Sykes’s recent edited collection, Remapping Sound Studies (2019), clearly highlight ongoing issues surrounding regimes of knowledge and the inherent unevenness brought about by a process of modernity with its origins in the West that continues to be reinforced by the neo-liberal academic institutions of the more developed regions of the globe. In the effort to invoke discourses of sound as ‘artefacts of rich and diverse histories of thought’, as well as to attend to the ‘existential and even mundane presence of sound in everyday life’ (Novak and Sakakeeny 2015, 2), our book takes up the challenges presented by David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny’s Keywords in Sound (2015), Ronald Radano and Tejumola Olaniyan’s Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique (2016), as well as Steingo and Sykes, because the laying out of the terms of debate and the mapping of the ‘shared ground’ of sound studies over the last decade has clearly revealed the exciting prospects inherent in the destabilising and denaturalising nature of sound as an object of study. Yet the presumption of universality has been hard to shake in a field that appears wedded to western intellectual lineages and traditions (Novak and Sakakeeny 2015, 3–7). Much recent work, even if openly challenging the dominance of the West, has only served to highlight those experiences as the point of difference—frequently as the ‘other’ of colonial regimes of knowledge—and further reinforced notions of common ways of hearing, controlling, reproducing, and ultimately thinking about sound that foreground an emphasis on the visual in modernity as not just an accentuated tendency in western conceptions of knowledge, but as a critical element in the constitution of the colonial modern itself (Ochoa Gautier 2015, 13). It is impossible to deny the extent of—or at the very least the desire for—imperial projection through the networks of knowledge and aesthetic influence sur- rounding music, language, and technologies for example. Ultimately though, the imperial project itself has become the circuit around or against which aurality is seen to be structured, and it has become the hub around which or against which studies of sound in the non-West have too often found their common ground.
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