(Columbia University Press, 2018)
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Long before karaoke’s ubiquity and the rise of global brands such as Sony, Japan was a place where new audio technologies found eager users and contributed to new cultural forms. In Electrified Voices, Kerim Yasar traces the origins of the modern soundscape, showing how the revolutionary nature of sound technology and the rise of a new auditory culture played an essential role in the formation of Japanese modernity.
A far-reaching cultural history of the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, radio, and early sound film in Japan, Electrified Voices shows how these technologies reshaped the production of culture. Audio technologies upended the status of the written word as the only source of prestige while revivifying traditional forms of orality. The ability to reproduce and transmit sound, freeing it from the constraints of time and space, had profound consequences on late nineteenth-century language reform; twentieth-century literary, musical, and cinematic practices; the rise of militarism and nationalism in the 1920s and 30s; and the transition to the postwar period inaugurated by Emperor Hirohito’s declaration of unconditional surrender to Allied forces—a declaration that was recorded on a gramophone record and broadcast throughout the defeated Japanese empire. The first cultural history in English of auditory technologies in modern Japan, Electrified Voices enriches our understanding of Japanese modernity and offers a major contribution to sound studies and global media history.
“Kerim Yasar recounts the fascinating story of how modernity in Japan sounded. Eminently readable, his book traces how Japan’s existing soundscape found itself translated and transformed by such modern audio technologies as the telephone, gramophone, radio, and talkie cinema, and how the process launched new debates about what it means to represent the real.”
– Michael K. Bourdaghs, University of Chicago
Kerim Yasar is assistant professor of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of Southern California