Events Graphic
MIT Media Lab about us . academics . sponsors . research . publications . events . people . contact us


Emily Thompson:
"Dead Rooms and Live Wires: Harvard, Hollywood and the Origins of the Virtual Soundscape, 1900-1930"

Tod Machover

Tuesday, November 5, 2002, 4:00 PM EST

Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab (E15)

tv icon
The link will become active on the date and time scheduled for this event.

The American soundscape changed dramatically during the early decades of the 20th century, as new acoustical technologies transformed both what people heard and they ways that they listened. One significant result of these changes was a fundamentally new relationship between sound and space. The traditional relationship between an architectural space and the kind of sound heard within it was first manipulated through a new scientific technique of acoustical design developed by Harvard physicist Wallace Sabine, circa 1900. It was then tested and expanded through the development of new kinds of special-purpose sound-absorbing building materials. Finally, the traditional relationship was shattered with the deployment of new electro-acoustic technologies like loudspeakers and microphones. With the advent of sound motion pictures (circa 1930), sound engineers in Hollywood learned to use these new technologies to simulate electrically the sound of architectural space, thereby creating virtual soundscapes for their movies. After charting these historical transformations, Thompson's talk will conclude by considering how our own postmodern soundscape relates to its modern predecessor.

Emily Thompson is the author of The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (The MIT Press, 2002). Originally trained in electrical engineering and physics at the Rochester Institute of Technology, she worked in the recording studios of the Eastman School of Music as well as at Bell Laboratories before returning to school for graduate study in history. Since receiving her PhD from Princeton, she has taught the history of technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Iowa State University and the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently a senior fellow at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at MIT.

MIT Media Laboratory Home Page | Events Main Index

  . colloquium series
  . livewire
  . events archive


To view the Webcast, you will
need the free RealPlayer
installed on your computer.