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Sonic Persuasion

Reading Sound in the Recorded Age

Greg Goodale

Publication Year: 2011

Sonic Persuasion: Reading Sound in the Recorded Age critically analyzes a range of sounds on vocal and musical recordings, on the radio, in film, and in cartoons to show how sounds are used to persuade in subtle ways. Greg Goodale explains how and to what effect sounds can be "read" like an aural text, demonstrating this method by examining important audio cues such as dialect, pausing, and accent in presidential recordings at the turn of the twentieth century. Goodale also shows how clocks, locomotives, and machinery are utilized in film and literature to represent frustration and anxiety about modernity, how race and other forms of identity came to be represented by sound during the interwar period, and how programming producers and governmental agencies employed sound to evoke a sense of fear in listeners. Goodale provides important links to other senses, especially the visual, to give fuller meaning to interpretations of identity, culture, and history in sound.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Studies in Sensory History


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Title Page, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

The genesis of this project lies in Lawrence W. Levine’s single-word response to a question I posed about obscure historical sources. To complete a graduate class in cultural history, I attempted to make sense of thousands of letters written to console Ida McKinley after the assassination of her husband in 1901. As...

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p. xiii

I would like to thank three groups for their assistance in helping to research, write, and publish this book. First, I thank the librarians and archivists at the University of Illinois libraries, Snell Library at Northeastern University, the Boston Public Library, Mugar Library at Boston University, the Boston...

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1. Reading Sound

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pp. 1-15

Undergraduate students often encounter Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address during their academic adventures. Political scientists, American historians, and rhetorical critics, in particular, like to use this speech. The oration is certainly historic, not to mention interesting and easy to read. The address...

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2. Fitting Sound

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pp. 16-46

During the 1890s, millions of Americans tried out a surprising invention produced in Thomas A. Edison’s Menlo Park factories. Eleven years after its invention in 1877, Edison had finally made the new device marketable. The automatic phonograph, a “nickel-slot” machine (essentially, a jukebox with one recording) that...

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3. Machine Mouth

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pp. 47-75

At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, many found the sounds of modernity disturbing. But humans are remarkably adaptable, and so over time and sometimes with training, most grew familiar with the sound of the ticking clock, the clickity-clack of the locomotive, and the...

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4. The Race of Sound

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pp. 76-105

Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, recorded a few blues tunes at the Victor Corporation’s Hollywood studio during a visit to California in July 1930. One of the songs he recorded required more than he could provide through his weak voice and simple guitar picking. So a pianist and a trumpet player were...

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5. Sounds of War

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pp. 106-131

The ancient Greeks told tales of the sirens whose voices so enchanted seamen that the mariners lost their minds and crashed their ships onto the shores. The sirens’ calls were irresistible. Even Odysseus, after plugging his mariners’ ears, had to be tied to the mast to prevent himself from losing his mind, his ship, and...

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6. On Sound Criticism

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pp. 132-153

Thomas A. Edison invented the phonograph in December 1877 and promptly put further development of the invention aside as he perfected another innovation, electricity. Edison only made the phonograph practical in 1888. Though Edison made few recording devices that first decade, stories abound about the...


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pp. 155-181


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pp. 183-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093203
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036040

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Studies in Sensory History
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OCLC Number: 741558444
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Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Sound -- Recording and reproducing -- United States -- History.
  • Sound recordings -- Social aspects -- United States -- History.
  • Persuasion (Psychology).
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