Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene

Subjects: Media Studies, New Media, Digital Projects
Digital online : 9780472999019, March 2019

Open access availability of this work is made possible by generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Innovative scholarship at the crossroads of sound studies, ecocriticism, and radio history creates an engaging listening experience


ESC is a work of experimental audio-based scholarship combining sound studies, radio history, and environmental criticism. This unique project is a fully open access, fully digital suite of audiographic essays, presented as a ten-part podcast series, combining spoken commentary, clips from classic radio dramas, excerpts from films and television shows, news reports, and the work of contemporary sound artists. A brief written essay on the ESC website provides a helpful introduction and context for this project.

ESC takes as its point of departure the CBS Radio adventure series Escape (1947–54). The postwar years saw both a decline in popularity for American radio drama, and the dawn of the Anthropocene era, with human beings emerging as the primary force affecting the earth’s systems.

Jacob Smith considers Escape’s adventure stories from an ecocritical perspective, analyzing the geographic, sociopolitical, and ecological details of the stories to reveal how they are steeped in social and environmental history.

The work of contemporary sound artists and field recordists underscores the relevance of sound in these narratives and demonstrates audio’s potential as a key medium for scholarship. ESC features recordings by some of the most prominent sound artists working in this area, including Daniel Blinkhorn, Peter Cusak, David Dunn, JLIAT, Christina Kubisch, Francisco López, Sally Ann McIntyre, Chris Watson, and Jana Winderen.

ESC makes the urgency of our critical ecological moment audible in a new way. The audio essays articulate what it means to live in an Anthropocene era and posit alternative ways of conceptualizing our historical moment. ESC sharpens our ability to listen and respond to our world with greater ecological awareness.

All publication resources for ESC, including the introductory essay, audio materials, and backmatter, are available on Fulcrum. The audio materials are also available on Apple Podcasts.

Jacob Smith is Professor in the Department of Radio/Television/Film and Director of the Master of Arts Program in Sound Arts and Industries at Northwestern University.

Listen: Podcast Interview with Aca-Media on ESC and Lightning Birds | 04/08/2024