The Emergence of Sō-on in Industrial Japan: Kōjō Ongaku and An/aesthetic Strategies for Factory Management

Keisuke Yamada, University of Pittsburgh; Andrew Niess, University of Pennsylvania
Apr 13, 2021 at -


The Emergence of Sō-on in Industrial Japan: Kōjō Ongaku and An/aesthetic Strategies for Factory Management

Tuesday, April 13, 2021 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

This is a virtual event. Register for access to Zoom meeting.


Keisuke Yamada, University of Pittsburgh

Andrew Niess, University of Pennsylvania


Part of a broader project tracing the genealogy of kankyō ongaku (environmental music), this presentation explores how early twentieth-century Japanese intellectuals and policy-makers discussed sound in the context of kagakuteki kanrihō (scientific management). Japanese authors considered how to contend with sō-on (noise) in the workplace, which managers viewed as a menace to productivity and health. We consider the development of kōjō ongaku (factory music) as a response to the problem of sō-on. We identify this management strategy as aesthetic, in contrast with the anaesthetic strategy encompassing only material interventions like soundproofing. We deploy this an/aesthetic framework to show how the use of the arts in factory management has been overlooked in the intellectual history of kagakuteki kanrihō. 

We consider discourses in physics, acoustics, psychology, arts, and aesthetics co-existing across modern industrial societies. Some of the questions we pose are: How did early twentieth-century Japanese intellectuals listen to and discourse on sounds as central to knowledge production? How did such knowledge produce axiologies for evaluating the relationships between workers, their health, and the sounds they listen to, (co)produce, and (co)perform with machines in industrial settings? How did Japanese physicists and acoustic engineers measure different sounds and take measure of how their society was sounding? How have senses of hearing historically constituted an essential component of well-being?

Image Source: Kobayashi Aiyū, Kōjō ongaku tsūkai. Preserved by the National Diet Library, Tokyo. https://dl.ndl.go.jp


Event Series
Penn Music Colloquium Series