Media and Sonic Self-Control

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 61 illustrations Published: March 2019

Author: Mack Hagood

Cultural Studies > Affect Theory, Media Studies, Music > Sound Studies

For almost sixty years, media technologies have promised users the ability to create sonic safe spaces for themselves—from bedside white noise machines to Beats by Dre's “Hear What You Want” ad campaign, in which Colin Kaepernick's headphones protect him from taunting crowds. In Hush, Mack Hagood draws evidence from noise-canceling headphones, tinnitus maskers, LPs that play ocean sounds, nature-sound mobile apps, and in-ear smart technologies to argue the true purpose of media is not information transmission, but rather the control of how we engage our environment. These devices, which Hagood calls orphic media, give users the freedom to remain unaffected in the changeable and distracting spaces of contemporary capitalism and reveal how racial, gendered, ableist, and class ideologies shape our desire to block unwanted sounds. In a noisy world of haters, trolls, and information overload, guarded listening can be a necessity for self-care, but Hagood argues our efforts to shield ourselves can also decrease our tolerance for sonic and social difference. Challenging our self-defeating attempts to be free of one another, he rethinks media theory, sound studies, and the very definition of media.


"Hagood points out that we now often talk about personal freedom in terms of what we don’t have to listen to, and he focusses, in the book, on our efforts to navigate sonic nuisances, and also the paradox of combating sound with more sound, in a world that has become loud enough to damage our health. . . . The stakes of Hush might seem small . . . But, once you begin to think about the relationship between the sound waves that constantly pass through us and the potential loss of self, you become more attuned to all the beckoning noises of modern life." — Hua Hsu, The New Yorker

"Hush is provocative and insightful." — Stephen Phillips, The Wire

"Hagood leaves us rethinking media theory, sound studies, and the definition of media." — John F. Barber, Leonardo Reviews

"Hush is an important addition to the emerging field of sound studies. . . . Scholars of sound studies, digital media, broadcast media, disability studies, and those interested in the intersection of gender and race with media will find this book insightful." — Jennifer Hyland Wang, Journal of Radio & Audio Media

"Hush gives readers interested in sound studies a lot to chew on. Some readers may be interested in it primarily as a rich trove of fascinating media-historical detail; others may prefer to focus on its thoughtful ruminations of the ideological underpinnings of 20th- and 21st-century media technologies; and others, again, may welcome it primarily for its efforts in rethinking conceptualizations of media and information." — Alexandra Supper, Journal of Sonic Studies

"What is intriguing in Hagood’s book is the nature of the media he’s examining but also his attempt to raise our awareness towards the orphic aspects of all media. Where his book is highly noteworthy but may also pose as challenging is the varied and interdisciplinary synthesis of theories, concepts and frameworks he draws on to examine orphic media. At the same time, though, this poses as a major strength as it demonstrates the multiple implications this book and topical area can have for various fields and disciplines." — Katherine Marazi, European Journal of American Studies

“Mack Hagood retunes the field of sound studies, boosting the prominence of environmental and ambient sounds—rain, heartbeats, the hum and whir of white noise—that can now be mobilized as electronic tools. Hagood offers a series of riveting case studies for what he calls orphic media, which ‘fight sound with sound’ to sculpt personal space. The first book to foreground these astonishingly pervasive technologies of sonic self-control, Hush inserts sound into critical debates about affect, ‘filter bubbles,’ and productivity apps. By the end of the book you wonder how sound could have previously been so overlooked in these arenas.” — Mara Mills

“Steering a path between ethnography and history, Hush considers the strange status of sounds to be heard but not listened to. Throughout, Mack Hagood wonders at the affective power of sound as a presence or absence and as a tool for listeners as they negotiate their embedded existence in the world with the social demand to be autonomous, self-managing subjects. Hush is challenging and imaginative; read it and you will learn to think differently about sound, noise, silence, and meaning.” — Jonathan Sterne

“A fascinating study of our efforts to control sound and, through it, our emotional and political lives. As Mack Hagood shows, the sonic and the social are never far apart and are best thought together.” — Fred Turner


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mack Hagood is Robert H. and Nancy J. Blayney Assistant Professor of Comparative Media Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Hearing What We Want  1
Part I. Suppression  29
1. Tinnitus and Its Aural Remedies  31
Part II. Masking  73
2. Sleep-Mates and Sound Screens: Sound, Speed, and Circulation in Postwar America  75
3. The Ultimate Seashore: Environments and the Nature of Technology  116
4. A Quiet Storm: Orphic Apps and Infocentrism  148
Part III. Cancellation  175
5. Bose QuietComfort and the Mobile Production of Personal Space  177
6. Beats by Dre: Race and the Sonic Interface  198
Conclusion. Wanting What We Hear  220
Notes  235
References  245
Index  261
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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