Interdisciplinary Sounds: the Porosity of Radio History and the Comparative Study of Media

As a researcher interested in the aural dimension of culture and everyday life, I feel engaged with the scholarly conversation on sound studies that is presented in Cinema Journal In Focus Issue 48.1. Several times during my academic journey, I have asked myself similar questions and confront similar problems to the ones that Coates, Friz, Hendy, and Hilmes address in their articles. As this group of scholars, I have been struck by the lack of research, until recent years, on the role of sound in our highly mediated culture and on our everyday life listening practices. I agree with them, the emerging field of “sound studies” is unveiling an unexplored and rich territory in where we can find new ways of understanding not only the obviously sonic media (e.g. radio, phonograph, walkman, mp3, popular music), but also the audio-visual (speakers-screen) media such as television, cinema, computer videogames, and internet multimedia.

The beauty of sound studies and its interdisciplinary approach is that it helps us to reveal that media and communication technologies are entwined with each other not only historically and economically, but also aesthetically. The emphasis in sound pushes the researcher to identify the transference of practices and conventions across different media in different periods of time. For instance, the study of cinematic language with an interdisciplinary approach that focuses in sound can reveal not only the influences from 19th century musical and theatrical melodrama conventions but also the influence of 20th century musique concrete and radio broadcasting practices.

Personally, I have become more and more interested in exploring what David Hendy calls the “infinitely porous” radio history. I do believe that a comparative study of the sound production and listening practices in radio, cinema, and television can help us to understand in a more complex way the development of the audio-visual language (perhaps the most interesting era would be the 1950s-1960s when all three different systems were distinct and culturally important). Since non of these modern media have worked in isolation, the usually ignored radio practices and conventions have a rich potential of explaining some of the uses of voices, sound effects, and music in television and cinema. Or even the other way around, perhaps the practices from screen media have also influenced the radio language. Whatever is the case, by pursuing a comparative study and including radio in our research we can start to get a more accurate understanding of the aural aspect of the media ecosystem and the modern sensory culture.

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