The Tone of Our Times
Sound, Sense, Economy, and Ecology
By frances dyson
The MIT Press
A Leonardo Book
4 b&w illus
In this wide-ranging book, Frances Dyson examines the role of sound in the development of economic and ecological systems that are today in crisis. Connecting early theories of harmony, cosmology, and theological doctrine to contemporary media and governance, Dyson uses sound, tone, music, voice, and noise as forms of sonority through which the crises of “eco” can be read. The sonic environment, Dyson argues, is fundamental to both sense and sensibility, and its delimitation has contributed to the “senselessness” of a world now caught between spiraling debt and environmental degradation.
Dyson draws on scenes, historical moments, artworks, and artistic and theoretical practice to situate the reverberative atmosphere that surrounds and sustains us. From Pythagoras’s hammer and the transmutation of music into mathematics, to John Cage’s famous experience in the anechoic chamber, to the relocation of the stock market from the street to the computer screen, to Occupy Wall Street’s “people’s microphone”: Dyson finds policies and practices of exclusion. The sound of Pythagoras’s forge and the rabble of the market have been muted, rearticulated, and transformed, Dyson argues, through the monotones of media, the racket of financialization, and the gibberish of political speech.
Informed by contemporary sound art, philosophy, media and sociopolitical theory, The Tone of Our Times offers insights into present crises that are relevant to a broader understanding of how space, the aural, and listening have shaped and continue to shape the world we live in.
About the Author
Frances Dyson is Emeritus Professor of Cinema and Technocultural Studies at the University of California, Davis, and Visiting Professorial Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts, University of New South Wales.
“Frances Dyson’s audacious and rigorous study of the economies of noise, tone, sound, and music spells out a new politics of sound for the age of Occupy and global ecological crisis, and a new agenda for sound studies.”
—Marcus Boon, Professor of English, York University; author of In Praise of Copying
“Piercing and erudite, The Tone of Our Times shakes sound studies with an electrifying current of thought-provoking analysis and daring intuitions. This is a timely book that will stir debate as it makes claims for discourses on sound to reach out and span politics to poetics, ‘echo to eco’; a bold challenge to established yet ambiguous paradigms in the terminology and epistemology of sound.”
—Daniela Cascella, Oxford Brookes University
“This is a timely and important book, made all the more remarkable because, by applying the aural metaphor of ‘tone’ across centuries and disciplines to explore the economic and ecological crises of our era, Dyson succeeds in helping us step outside, however briefly, the techno-consumerist bubble that engulfs us. Written at a time when the increasing din of human babble is drowning out all other voices on the planet so that we scarcely notice the vast and catastrophic disappearing that is happening all around, The Tone of Our Times makes the case for a renewed and more care-full listening: the nonhuman world is speaking, if only we would hear.”
—Char Davies, creator of the virtual environment Osmose, and custodian of a thousand acres of forest