Mack Hagood’s “Sonic Technologies of the Self”

The core idea of the “page 99 test” – that a part of the work reveals the whole – proves true in my dissertation, with a bit of a twist.

In Sonic Technologies of the Self, I examined the history and present of what I have come to call “orphic media,” devices used to fabricate a preferred sense of space through sound. Like Orpheus, who protected himself and his fellow Argonauts from the Sirens’ fatal song by playing his lyre, orphic media users fight sound with sound to remix their social-spatial entanglements. Examples of orphic media include noise-canceling headphones, white noise generators, and digital apps that create the sounds of waterfalls and bird-filled forests.

Orphic media give the lie to any simple equivalence between “media” and “communication technology.” Rather than facilitating communication, orphic media are often used to generate a simulation of silence so that the user can sleep, concentrate, or relax on their own. In orphic media use, sound becomes a technology of the self, creating a space in which users can be the self they think they are supposed to be. As a rule, this is a better-sleeping, more-efficient self that can meet the demands of a neoliberal economy by severing sonic ties to others.

But on page 99, I discuss an exception to this sleep/concentration binary, one that shows this rule is neither natural nor technologically determined. This page concerns a pioneer of orphic media—an audio producer, photographer, and marketer named Irv Teibel, who put all of his skills to use in a series of records called environments (1969-79).


A bit of a snake-oil salesman, Teibel was the first to create field recordings such as “Psychologically Ultimate Seashore,” and “Wind in the Trees” and market them as self-improvement tools. Teibel’s records, however, had a countercultural, communitarian vibe and were pitched as technologies to fight noise pollution, induce “mental trips,” and get people together:

Through his textual and pictorial framing of manipulated natural soundscapes, Irv Teibel succeeded in fabricating spaces of possibility through mediated sound. These spaces of possibility could be the outdoor imaginaries of lone listeners, but they could also be spaces of interpersonal connection and exploration—liminal spaces where ego boundaries could be weakened and transgressed, be it through talk therapy, encounter groups, or sex (99).

In today’s headphone/earbud culture personalized sound bubbles predominate, but Teibel’s work reminds us of other social-spatial possibilities for mediated sound.


Mack Hagood. 2013. Sonic Technologies of the Self: Mediating Sound, Space, and Sociality. Phd dissertation, Indiana University.

Mack Hagood is the Robert H. and Nancy J. Blayney Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies at Miami University, Ohio. His research on digital media, sound technologies, disability, and popular music has appeared in American Quarterly, Cinema JournalPopular Communication, and The Atlantic. He is the producer and cohost of the podcast Phantom Power: Sounds about Sound. You can reach him by email at

Mack’s dissertation was turned into a book recently published by Duke University Press, Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control (2019). 

Jenanne Ferguson’s “Khanna Bardyng”

My dissertation “Khanna Bardyng? Where are you going? Rural-urban Connections and the Fluidity of Communicative Practices Among Sakha-Russian Speakers” examines the communicative choices and practices of Sakha-Russian bilingual speakers living in Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in the Russian Federation. While I’m not sure if page 99 is the best indicator of my dissertation’s quality—it does not showcase much of my own analysis at all—it does touch on a few themes that do surface throughout the work. Issues of mobility and urban-rural connections both come up on this page, which is part of a historically-focused chapter that provides the context for Sakha language usage during the early Soviet era and the changing ideologies that influenced the way it was (not) spoken in urban spaces. The “ethnic solidification” of the Stalinist period was also linguistic, in that it set in motion the growing association of Russian with the (modern, progressive, unified and Soviet) urban spaces and Sakha with the (backward, potentially nationalistic) rural spaces:

“Slezkine (1994b:444) speaks of the Great Transformation of the 1920s in the Soviet Union as a decade characterized by ‘fluidity’ and possibility. Conversely, the Retreat of the 1930s was a period of ‘solidification,’ when ethnicities and territories became even more fixed than before. From what I learned from my research participants, via stories they had heard from parents, it was also a time of even greater sedentarization. With collectivization, people became even more tied to a particular place on the land. Collectivization affected Sakha pastoralists differently, and perhaps not as severely, as Evenki or Even reindeer herders (Vitebsky 2005). Most rural Sakha were already more settled, moving only back and forth between sajylyk (summer pastures) and winter village, but an urban-rural divide was definitely beginning to be felt. People did not travel as often between city and village, I was told, because everything they needed, most significantly a job, was usually found in the village, on the farm. Due to the loss of infrastructure and subsequently further migration into the city, people once again needed to become kuoratchyttar (villagers who go to the city, to sell goods), and go to Yakutsk or larger towns. This lack of mobility between Sakha-speaking villages and an increasingly Russian-speaking city caused a hardening of communicative norms into a pattern that is still not completely broken.”

The remainder of the chapter analyses the ways in which language ideologies and communicative norms that did not favor the use of Sakha were reinforced in Yakutsk during this Soviet years, and the increasing distinctions developing between rural and urban linguistic environments which still impact how Sakha is spoken currently. From there, the rest of the dissertation then focuses on the revitalisation and revalorisation of Sakha language and culture two decades after the end of the Soviet era. I analyse the discourse surrounding language ideologies and how these ideologies are reinforced or challenged by communicative practices of speakers in Yakutsk—and how they are influenced by the increasing influx of rural Sakha speakers migrating to the city. Mobility and movement return to the fore as I discuss the relocalization of Sakha within urban speakers’ repertoires, and analyse the indexicality of code-mixing practices: speakers “move” within and between languages. I also look at movement at the level of language trajectories—how speakers move toward, or away from, different languages over their lifetimes (Wyman 2012). Understanding how a speaker’s social networks, educational history and migration patterns all shape language socialization over a life course reveals the patterns influencing the maintenance or loss of a minority language in both individuals and groups.


Jenanne Ferguson, “Khanna Bardyng? Where are you going? Rural-urban Connections and the Fluidity of Communicative Practices Among Sakha-Russian Speakers” University of Aberdeen, 2013.

Jenanne Ferguson is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Nevada Reno. She researches Indigenous and minority language maintenance with a current project focus on verbal art, affect and moral/political communitas. She is also interested in looking further at the role of music in language revitalization. You can reach her at

Her dissertation research was recently published as Words Like Birds: Sakha Language Discourses and Practices in the City from the University of Nebraska Press.