A Paleontology of Quiet

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This paper considers “close listening” in the context of classic America radio drama through a study of “The Thing on the Fourble Board,” a radio play by Wyllis Cooper. Although it is among the most esteemed works of dramatic audio in U.S. popular culture, the piece has seldom been engaged critically. Doing “readings” of radio drama is a rare activity to begin with, and this play is especially elusive because its features exceed the common preoccupations of theory of radio dramatic technique. Following Jonathan Sterne’s proposal to blend “sonic imaginations” with other fields of thought and practice, I take a new approach, heeding Cooper’s odd “geological” aesthetic and arguing that the play offers an idea of “auditory fossilization.” Building on some of my earlier work that considers classic radio drama as a mineralized transmission, I further propose the “sound fossil” as a heuristic to help us conceptualize the form as a whole as it exists in our time. This nearly extinct yet modern genre has always been a kind of objet sonore, surely, inasmuch as it occupies a “theater of the mind” whose pleasure rests on a disavowal of its own production, but radio drama is also increasingly a sonorous “thing,” defined by glitches and errors in the preserved audio that point toward a struggle against – and requirement of – materiality. According to this model, to critically engage with a recorded drama is to unearth these two underground counterpressures, and close listening is both a mode of reading and one of excavation.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalThe Journal of Sonic Studies
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 24 2014


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