Sounds at Work: Designing Productivity in Science, Art, and Industry
Over the twentieth century, managers and employees alike became increasingly concerned with workers’ rhythms, postures, and movements; their internal states; and their capacities for focus, attention, and information processing. The mutual reconfiguration of work, worker, and work environment coincided with the rise of new professional fields of investigation, from interwar Psychotechnik to office automation, and was reflected in new kinds of artistic experiment. Drawing insights from applied psychology, ergonomics and human factors, architecture, or design, their techniques aimed to rearrange modern life in the office, factory, laboratory, and studio, and by extension also the home or the classroom.
This workshop examines the changing phenomenal and collective experience of “work” (not necessarily limited to “labor”) in the twentieth century, focusing on one important modality of such experience—sound. We ask how corporations, scientists, and artists turned acoustic or musical sound and listening into a subject of knowledge-generation and intervention in the workplace, and how their investigations have, in turn, been characterized as work. How was sound used to articulate new theories of behavior, express new technological utopias, aestheticize corporate identities, manage affective and psychological states, or redefine productivity across different economic and industrial regimes?
Max-Planck-Institute für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Villa,