x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Varied sounds, even silence

Usually shunned as something unwelcome, noise has been a capacious category throughout human history, David Hendy writes in Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening

Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening
Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening

In the introduction to his entertaining history, BBC journalist, radio producer and academic historian David Hendy is at pains to point out that he is writing about noise and not sound.

Usually shunned as something unwelcome, noise, Hendy argues “has been a capacious category throughout human history – one full of surprises and drama”. Hendy traces the history of noise in myriad forms: music, speech, echoes, chanting, drumbeats, gunfire ... even silence. The list is endless and his observations unstuffy but perceptive.

Much has already been written by eminent historians on the physical and abstract qualities of sound, but Hendy offers a more subjective take on a familiar subject; his is a social history broken down into prehistoric noise, the age of oratory, the sounds of religion, the sounds of power and revolt, the rise of machines and the amplified modern age.

Hendy’s final words are a plea for consideration. “Even today,” he says, “sound has to be managed not by technology or by force but by ethics.” Hear hear.

cdight@thenational.ae