On 9 March the research seminar welcomed Tom Perchard from Goldsmiths to speak on “Placing Audio in the Postwar British Home: History, Technology and Listening“. The stimulating — and entertaining — talk led to lively discussion from the members of the City community and visitors in attendance.
Tom seeks to challenge some current narratives of “hi-fi” as an exclusively male domain in 1950’s-60’s Britain, such as Keir Knightley’s 1996 article “‘Turn It down!’ She Shrieked: Gender, Domestic Space, and High Fidelity, 1948-59“. While this trope — of hi-fi audio as a gendered escape from the domestic space of the suburban post-war home — may have described some experiences, it may have been more significant as an advertising ploy than as factual reality. With evidence garnered from the diary collection of the Bishopsgate Institute, Tom points to women of diverse ages and economic backgrounds who were just as enthusiastic and sensitive hi-fi listeners as their male counterparts. In parallel Tom documents the development of advertisements in periodicals HiFi and Ideal Home, tracing the evolution of hi-fi from DIY hobby to interior design trend in the increasingly mediatised space of the post-war home. In parallel the iconic figure of the lone adult male seated in a leather chair in a pose of intense listening — whom Tom likens to Caspar David Friedrich’s wanderer — eventually yields in the mid-1960s to hi-fi ads featuring teens and women as societal and market forces change.
The compelling topic and engaging delivery accompanied by, at times humorous, vintage hi-fi ads touched an audience with a wide range of interests, criss-crossing fields of historical musicology, popular music studies, gender, and techno-culture. Questions and discussion that followed brought up issues of privacy and access to diary documents, the simultaneous evolution of the television as media and domestic object, and differences between British and North American domestic spaces. Many thanks to Tom for opening up this fascinating field for us!
Aaron Einbond, Lecturer in Composition