Thoreau’s Wild Acoustics: (Re)sounding in the Concord Landscape

In: Thoreau in an Age of Crisis
Dennis Noson
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Dennis Noson’s “Thoreau’s Wild Acoustics: (Re)sounding in the Concord Landscape” showcases Thoreau’s corporeal and literary engagements with the soundscapes that he experienced in his environment. While literary scholars have touched on this topic from aesthetic and philosophical vantages, few have to date brought a formal acoustic competence to bear on the subject. Noson reveals that, while Thoreau was denied today’s technology, whereby sounds can be digitally recorded, unpacked, and analyzed for their component parts, he over time developed an ever more sophisticated ear. He learned how helpfully to differentiate sound from noise. The latter had its random “acoustic energy smeared across the spectrum,” while the pitches and tones and modulations of sound each caused a meaningfully different sensation in Thoreau’s attentive ear, combining—in the case of birdsong, say—to form musical elements. Noson’s work highlights an altogether new way in which Thoreau’s work was scientific: through his attention to the physics of sound.

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