- Music 1145
In 1964, the U.S. government conducted an experiment in which it bombarded Oklahoma City with eight sonic booms a day, every day, for six months, in order to test community reaction. The experiment was part of a large-scale program to build a supersonic transport (SST), an aircraft that would have produced sonic booms affecting many millions of people. This paper explores the history of sonic booms, with special focus on the causes, contexts, and consequences of the Oklahoma City experiment. It argues that within the political economy of the Cold War, sonic booms became a new kind of state power which touched people through their senses and functioned as a kind of “technopolitics” that intruded upon the practice of everyday life. The final section considers the legacy of sonic booms and the militarization of sound in the twenty-first century.
David Suisman is associate professor of history at the University of Delaware. His books include Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music (Harvard University Press, 2009), winner of numerous awards and prizes, and Sound in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), co-edited with Susan Strasser. His articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, Social Text, The Believer, American Historical Review, and other publications. He is also associate editor of the Journal of Popular Music Studies and a sometime disc jockey at freeform radio station WFMU. He lives in Philadelphia.