Roland Wittje – The Age of Electroacoustics: Transforming Science and Sound


MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262035262, English, 312 pages, 2016, USA

The essential moment of transition between the mechanical and the media takes place rapidly with the pervasive use of electricity. Its impact on our perception of sounds, beyond its cultural resonance in avant-garde, is investigated in this book in an original way. It’s a careful chronology on the history of electroacoustics, starting in 1860s with Lord Rayleigh developing the “duplex” theory for human sound localisation and Hermann von Helmholtz creating his celebrated “resonator”, through the industrial automation of acoustics over World War I. It then continues with the subsequent acoustics’ demilitarisation during the Weimar Republic, to its utter militarisation with National Socialism. The transition from the 19th century bourgeois science to its popularisation through new electric media, then tremendously empowered by electronics (mainly telephony and radio), is pictured as a progressively interwoven historical course of actions. It’s easy to recognise this book as a history of science in classic terms. It researches the evolution of socio-political progresses or regresses through the advancement in sound technologies. The evolving relationship between academic research, industrial development and social impact describes a forceful direction, analysed in its beginnings, but still present today, although with quite different coordinates. Interpreting acoustics as “inseparable from human hearing, voice and music”, as Wittje affirms, helping to recognise science as a key agent in crucial social dynamics.