Domestic space, music technology and the emergence of solitary listening: tracing the roots of solipsistic sound culture in the digital age
In the first half-century of sound reproduction technology, various forms of social listening were the norm when it came to recorded music. In our digital age, however, a very common form of music listening is to listen to music on your own. We call this practice solitary listening. In this article we discuss what we see as the most important preconditions for solitary listening as it developed in the course of the twentieth century. More specifically, we argue that solitary listening became the dominant form of listening toward the middle of the century as a result of three different, but interrelated, developments in modern society: (1) the emergence of the modern living room; (2) the arrival of new and ever more sophisticated technologies for sound reproduction; and (3) a continuously growing individualism in society at large, fostering an aesthetic individualism in which solitary listening found its natural place. With the Internet, digital technology and modern noise-cancelling headphones the journey from social to solitary listening has reached its ultimate destination, giving rise to what can perhaps best be described as a contemporary solipsistic sound culture. At the same time, through the sharing of music and musical playlists on social media the social aspects of musical listening seem to have returned in a new form.