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Domestic space, music technology and the emergence of solitary listening: Tracing the roots of solipsistic sound culture in the digital age

Journal article
Authors Tobias Pontara
Ulrik Volgsten
Published in Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning
Volume 99
Pages 1-19
ISSN 0081-9816
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Pages 1-19
Language en
Keywords Solitary listening; living room; sound reproduction technology; individualism; popular music.
Subject categories Musicology


Domestic space, music technology and the emergence of solitary listening: tracing the roots of solipsistic sound culture in the digital age. In the rst half-century of sound reproduction technology, various forms of social listen- ing were the norm when it came to recorded music. In our digital age, however, a very common form of music listening is to listen to music on your own. We call this practice solitary listening. In this article we discuss what we see as the most important precondi- tions for solitary listening as it developed in the course of the twentieth century. More speci cally, we argue that solitary listening became the dominant form of listening toward the middle of the century as a result of three different, but interrelated, develop- ments in modern society: (1) the emergence of the modern living room; (2) the arrival of new and ever more sophisticated technologies for sound reproduction; and (3) a con- tinuously growing individualism in society at large, fostering an aesthetic individualism in which solitary listening found its natural place. With the Internet, digital technology and modern noise-cancelling headphones the journey from social to solitary listening has reached its ultimate destination, giving rise to what can perhaps best be described as a contemporary solipsistic sound culture. At the same time, through the sharing of music and musical playlists on social media the social aspects of musical listening seem to have returned in a new form.

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