The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World

By Trevor Cox

I’m quite interested in sound and audio, from both an artistic-experimental-immersive-experience angle, and the perspective of acoustic ecology, the way sound shapes space, the noise fingerprint of the built environment. This seems to be an incredibly multidisciplinary book—my favorite meta-genre!—tying in fields ranging from archaeology and neuroscience to design and biology in its exploration of fascinating sounds and how they’re produced and altered; how they’re received, how they influence us.

In this book, Cox seeks out “the sonic wonders of the world” and “revels in exotic noises…creaking glaciers, whispering galleries, stalactite organs, musical roads, humming dunes, seals that sound like alien angels, and a Mayan pyramid that chirps like a bird”. It contains some technical content, but is not a technical book; rather it’s “a book of adventures”—Cox uses sound/audio as a lens for exploring fascinating places

In some ways, this seems to have a lot in common with The Oldest Living Things in the World, which I wrote about a few days ago. Like that book, this one combines scientific exploration with personal travelogue. But here, the places and phenomena being studied are conveyed in a stranger, more mediated manner—not the directness of photos, but rather sounds as described through words. In fact, I’d half expect a book like this to be accompanied by an online audio archive; it seems hard to fully appreciate sounds by reading about them. But I’ll give Cox the benefit of the doubt here! Ultimately I think it’s less about the sounds themselves, and more about their context and impact on the world and how we experience it.

I really liked how two consecutive reviewers coincidentally described this book as satisfying: “a truly satisfying book” and “the most personally satisfying book I’ve read in years…” It seems that it’s not just a narration of Cox’s adventures, but a source of encouragement, of provocation. It makes a “lucid and passionate case for a more mindful way of listening…” and encourages us to “open our ears to the glorious cacophony all around us.”

It’s about transforming our experience; in the call to mindfulness, careful listening may serve as meditation, focusing our attention and sense of presence. All the books I write about here are ones that deeply interest me, of course—but this one more than most seems actually exciting and fun to read.

Additional information:

  • ISBN: 978-0393350586
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

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