Shelley Trower – Senses Of Vibration: A History of the Pleasure and Pain of Sound


Continuum, ISBN-13: 978-1441148636, 224 pages, 2012, English

There’s an interesting quote by Pascal Guignard in this book which seems to epitomize its spirit: “Sound is the territory where one does not contemplate”. It might sound controversial if considered out of this context, one very focused on the physical perception of audio. Trower takes an emblematic and recurring reference: bass frequencies. They can be properly defined as an “extra auditory” experience as they are felt through the body. The whole book is developed around the “felt” rather than “heard”, moving from the modern era (including the 18th and 19th century) when flourishing scientific investigations vigorously measured physical phenomena, to the contemporary fetishization of the subwoofer. Sound is seen then as the general interface for vibrations, since they cross sensory thresholds, being simultaneously “audible” and “palpable”. On the other hand their ability to be transmitted through materials, even very solid ones, in a way symbolizes immateriality. This combination leads to the concept of vibrating over distance (the “waves”), which tries to see connections between different time periods and connects to a popular form of spiritualism. As Trower points out, vibrations are “the connection between the external world of objects in motion and an internal world of mental activity”, showing the “auditory unconscious.” Ending with the vibrating body and the application of vibrations to the (especially female) body this book unceasingly connects the mental and the physical through sound, from a compelling historical perspective.