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Morale as Sonic Force: Listen to Britain and Total War

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-41
Number of pages18
JournalSound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Issue number1
Early online date29 Oct 2019
Accepted/In press25 Jul 2019
E-pub ahead of print29 Oct 2019
PublishedFeb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work was supported by the Leverhulme Trust. I would like to thank the Special Collections staff at the British Film Institute Reubens Library, and am grateful for helpful feedback from the peer-reviewers for this journal and participants in Sonic Circulations (King?s College London, June 2019). Publisher Copyright: © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


King's Authors


Scholars have tended to imagine the sounds of war as those of violence, and wartime listening as an “act of survival,” often privileging the battlefield over everyday wartime life, and the experiences of men over those of women and children. Such tendencies are challenged in multiple ways by the Second World War as an instance of “total war,” and by the experiences of the British “home front” in particular. Even in this context, tellingly, contemporary representations of the sounds of war tended to focus on violence. However, an intriguingly expansive treatment of the sounds of war can be found in the 1942 documentary film Listen to Britain, a collage of music and everyday sound. The film alights on sound as a figure of the affective force of morale itself, binding and integrating while also remaining difficult to pin down and control. At the same time, it grounds music in a transformed sense of the power of sound under the conditions of total war, attempting to imagine afresh music’s relationship to feeling and the political.

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