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The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, 7 Volume Set by Fabienne Darling-Wolf, Radhika Parameswaran, Erica Scharrer, Vicki Mayer, Sharon Mazzarella, Kelly Gates, John Nerone, Angharad N. Valdivia

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17

Sound Histories

Communication, Technology, Media, and Fidelity

Eric W. Rothenbuhler

ABSTRACT

The interdisciplinary study of sound and sound technologies received a burst of new attention in the 1990s, much of it historical inquiry. Given the ubiquity of sound in human experience and the centrality of audio to modern media, this promised an intriguing horizontal slice across fields and disciplines of study. The literature has evolved, though, toward a set of relatively distinct areas of study, including film sound, recording and music history, radio history, and telephone studies. Among these, studies of the social shaping of sound technologies into communication media, institutional practices, and industries continue in the interdisciplinary vein. This issue of social shaping is crucial for communication scholars and media historians in particular, who need an analytic vocabulary for distinguishing and examining the relations among the potentials of technologies and their actual uses and outcomes as media of communication. The issue of fidelity is central to professional and public discourses of audio, and has become a point of critique for scholars. Understood as the accuracy or truth of a reproduction compared to its original, fidelity would appear to be impossible in the current practices of sound media industries. It is proposed here that its enduring utility can be explained by seeing reproduction as a problem of communication rather than engineering or logic.

The study ...

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