Tabitha Farthing

Stankievech, C. “From Stethoscopes to Headphones: An Acoustic Spatialization of Subjectivity.” Leonardo Music Journal, vol. 17 no. 1, 2007, pp. 55-59. Project MUSE, article/229986.

This article examines the effect of headphones on in-head acoustic imaging, as well as the subjective experience they create in the listener’s mind. The author exemplifies his argument by describing the invention of the stethoscope in the early nineteenth century, explaining how it opened an audio pathway from a patient’s interior heart chamber to the doctor’s brain.

One strength of this article is its chronological procession from the stethoscope to the use of modern day headphones. This organization appeals to the audience because it allows for easier synthesizing of the text. The author also presents many unique ideas about how headphones generate space inside the head. The three examples of sound artists adds an interesting layer to the piece, however, the article seems to end abruptly after the descriptions are complete; a distinct summation of the argument would add to the article. The author establishes his credibility in the opening paragraph by stating that his article presents a fresh and unique perspective on the function of headphones, rather than discussing their social impact or role in consumerism and science. He also provides solid examples that pertain to his argument and includes useful images, such as figure 3.

This source is useful due to its phenomenological perspective of headphones and example of the predecessor to headphones, the stethoscope. This is a technology I had not considered as relating to the history of headphones, which could be a very interesting element to weave into my paper. One important idea that sums up this article is the concept of sound creating space, as when the author notes, “With the use of the binaural stethoscope (and subsequently with headphones) a sound field can be virtually located within the head. More accurately, space is created within the mass of the body where sound masses float in an impossible space.” This creates an image of an audio reality taking shape in one’s mind.


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