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Media, sound, and culture in Latin America and the Caribbean

4108NTeU4pL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_From Amazon

Outside of music, the importance of sound and listening have been greatly overlooked in Latin American history. Visual media has dominated cultural studies, affording an incomplete record of the modern era. This edited volume presents an original analysis of the role of sound in Latin American and Caribbean societies, from the late nineteenth century to the present. The contributors examine the importance of sound in the purveyance of power, gender roles, race, community, religion, and populism. They also demonstrate how sound is essential to the formation of citizenship and nationalism.

Sonic media, and radio in particular, have become primary tools for contesting political issues. In that vein, the contributors view the control of radio transmission and those who manipulate its content for political gain. Conversely, they show how, in neoliberal climates, radio programs have exposed corruption and provided a voice for activism.

The essays address sonic production in a variety of media: radio; Internet; digital recordings; phonographs; speeches; carnival performances; fireworks festivals, and the reinterpretation of sound in literature. They examine the bodily experience of sound, and its importance to memory coding and identity formation.

This volume looks to sonic media as an essential vehicle for transmitting ideologies, imagined communities, and culture. As the contributors discern, modern technology has made sound ubiquitous, and its study is therefore crucial to understanding the flow of information and influence in Latin America and globally.


Fr0m Project Muse

Media, Sound, and Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean ed. by Alejandra Bronfman, Andrew Grant Wood (review)

Reviewed by Leonardo Cardoso

Alejandra Bronfman and Andrew Grant Wood, eds. 2012. Media, Sound, and Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. 192pp. ISBN: 9780822961871.

Since the early 2000s, when important contributions helped to galvanize it as a thought-provoking academic enterprise, the field of sound studies has grown exponentially across the humanities. As the title of some of these early contributions indicate—The Audible Past (2003), Hearing Cultures (2004), Hearing History (2004), The Auditory Culture Reader (2003)—sound studies scholars have focused on four broad areas: history, space, culture, and technology (or materiality). By moving away from dominant visual- and logocentric epistemological paradigms (particularly in seemingly “text-based” disciplines such as literature and history), these scholars have shown less interest in “complementing” existent discourses and methodologies than in inserting a sound-based mode of inquiry into well-established discourses. Veit Erlmann’s Reason and Resonance (2011) and Emily Thompson’s Soundscapes of Modernity (2002) are good examples of sound studies works putting forward a critique of dominant interpretations of modernity in Europe and the United States—for example, what are the connections between philosophical inference on hearing and the physiological exploration of the ear, between aesthetic shifts in modernism and modern techno-cultural trends such as architectural acoustics?

Media, Sound, and Culture in Latin American and the Caribbean makes an important contribution to the field of sound studies. First, unlike the majority of sound studies works published in English, it focuses on the Global South. I believe this emphasis makes it a compelling book precisely because it encourages the authors to reflect on the context of their narratives. In other words, whereas modernity, postmodernity, and cosmopolitanism are often treated as neutral and uncomplicated concepts by those working within the premises of the Global North, Latin Americanists doing research on sound are more inclined to more explicitly contextualize the links between socioeconomic and cultural spheres. In that sense, this book offers a twofold contribution to canonized discussions about history, space, culture, and technology—by dealing with sound and by doing it within the Latin American context. The editors of the volume correctly point out that music has been the dominant point of entry for understanding Latin American soundscapes. By moving “beyond music to soundscapes that resonate with countless commercial jingles and advertising slogans, to anthems and speeches rife with political propaganda, and to ear splitting fireworks explosions at local festivals” (xii), the book thus provides a third (and welcome) assessment of scholarship on Latin America. Rather than summarizing each contribution to the volume, in what follows I highlight one chapter from the book’s tripartite organization. [End Page 123]

The editor’s short introduction builds on Jacques Attali’s Noise: the Political Economy of Music (1986, 3): “The world is not for beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible.” It then explains the tripartite organization of the book: “Embodied Sounds and the Sounds of Memory,” “The Media of Politics,” and “The Sonics of Public Spaces.” While it does a good job of tying together the chapters and the major questions that the book as a whole attempts to address, the introduction falls short of engaging with current literature and unpacking some concepts. Regarding the first issue, the editors take only one slim paragraph to mention more than ten sound studies scholars working on a wide variety of historical and geographic contexts and with diverse methodologies. It would be beneficial to establish a deeper dialogue with the existent literature. Regarding the latter issue, statements such as “our hearing has dulled” and “sound can persuade or deceive as easily as visual images,” or the notion that Western civilization’s marginalization of sound in “philosophical and literary” pursuits is a matter of sensory prejudice only, all deserve further discussion to make the book’s theoretical contribution clearer.

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