We take for granted that hearing is a spatial and directional phenomenon, and that space can be described in acoustic terms. However, in the late 19th century the concept of acoustic space was widely contested in philosophy, psychology, and medicine. This debate moved from the laboratory to the battlefield during the First World War, when French, British, German and American forces each developed a range of acoustic sensing technologies for detecting enemy aircraft and artillery. After the war, some of the same engineers involved in these acoustic defense efforts pioneered research in stereo sound for music and cinema.
This presentation will explore a century of scientific, technological, and musical developments in the area of acoustic space from 1850-1950: a period during which acoustic space shifted from an imagined space to a physiological space to a militarized zone. It will draw upon literature in science, music, and medicine, newspapers, war correspondences and advertisements to show how acoustic space was conceptualised, mobilised, and ultimately, commercially exploited.
Dr Gascia Ouzounian is a senior lecturer in music at Queen’s University Belfast, where she co-directs the interdisciplinary research project Recomposing the City: www.recomposingthecity.org