hush (review)

Hush: Media and Sonic Self-ControlHush: Media and Sonic Self-Control by Mack Hagood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

hush is a delightful read offering a bounty of pristine syntax, thoroughly informed chapters, and carefully constructed arguments. It’s a masterful blend of cornerstone theories – a high-tech trophy case of superbly crafted arguments and rhetorical delicacies all centered around the mediation of sound. hush is broken into four sections: Introduction, Suppression, Masking, and Cancellation. Its introduction is a marvelous display of textual control in which the figures of Orpheus and Collin Kaepernick bear the proverbial torches of exemplification.

Inspired by Orpheus’ ability to enshroud his listeners in protective song and by Collin’s Beats by Dre audio campaign in which he rises above the cacophony of the crowd, Mack Hagood speaks his own sonic safe-space into existence – a safe-space that seeks to encompass all the rest. The introductory segment of hush dissects the ontology of sound and provides clerical insight into the history of its existence in the broader realm of critical and cultural theory. The subsequent sections discuss sound as object in various cultural realms, while also tracing the evolution of sound theory through a handy history of sonic media devices. Ranging from white noise machines, to mantra aids; from personal listening devices to the broader field of “new media,” hush argues that the real essence of media use is not the transmission of information but rather the attempted control of affect, the continually changing states of bodies that condition their abilities to act and be acted upon (Hagood).

“Part 1: Suppression” engages readers with a history of Tinnitus – the most direct negative affectation of sonic media usage, while “Part II: Masking” delivers a more positive and uplifting history of the more soothing repercussions produced by sonic media. It jumps quickly from subject to subject, stitch to stitch – Hagood’s needle-tip prose is both informative and fluid, and his anumerous pop. culture references make maneuvering the book’s passages much more rewarding. As if the topics weren’t enticing enough. Even so, the latter paragraphs are made doubly rewarding through a marked increase in the use of personal anecdote. Although hush takes a more contemporary and stylized approach to critical theory, it hits hard.

Every paragraph is rich with insight, and the text is expertly paced. It gets better as it progresses. In its fourth chapter “A Quiet Storm: Orphic Apps and Infocentrism,” sentences like “Over the past three chapters, we have used the filter of orphic media to hear history both dulling and sharpening the senses (Schmidt 2000, 3), generating new aural sensitivities and new means of suppressing and masking sound, as Americans’ affectively driven attractions and aversions took shape in new sociomaterialistic environments,” and “Today, an informative/noise binary has become one of the contemporary West’s central discourses, suffusing our notions and experience of acoustic noise with an informatic sensibility and instilling in us the imperative for sonic self-control” are strewn about as casually as refrigerator magnets.

Lastly, “Part III: Cancellation” exists solely to discuss noise-cancellation technologies and their contribution to sonic self-control ad campaigns (namely, those of Bose and Beats by Dre). This section gets a bit dicey as it utilizes racial differences to contextualize the differance between “white noise,” and “black noise;” the stark difference that exists between Bose and Beats by Dre marketing tactics; wanting to hear nothing in order to be left alone and wanting to hear nothing in order to be recognized for it.

Yet setting dicey metaphors aside, it’s a necessary read for any scholar interested in the ontologies and epistemologies of the human existence. For such a heady topic, Mack Hagood’s hush cuts sound theory down to incredibly simple and understandable terms yet manages to keep it as classy as Foucault. And the best part? It features footnotes and a list of references.

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