This article examines noise as composing an atmospheric that is at once sensed and made sensible. Itself atmospheric, environmental noise amplifies ways of thinking and sensing the atmospheric: as a logics of indeterminacy, as a physicality of the ephemeral, and as an entanglement of air-body-matter. Drawing principally on material related to the politics of noise around Los Angeles International Airport from the 1960s to the present, this article takes up three episodes in which figurations of the atmospheric have been shaped by and cohere in and through noise. At the dawn of the jet age, civic mobilizations against airport noise revealed jurisdictional gaps between airspace and ground; noise, in providing the basis for airspace territory and property, produces the atmospheric as space. By the end of the 1960s the category of noise pollution was established as a legal and social norm. In this context annoyance—noise pollution’s unstable ground—serves as an affective and corporeal register of the permeability of bodies and buildings, a crucial dimension of the atmospheric. And lastly, edge spaces of infrastructure reflect the interplay between sounds from the sky and sensation, an indefinite urbanism. John Divola’s photo series Los Angeles International Airport Noise Abatement Zone (LAX NAZ) of homes in the flight path slated for demolition visualize the atmospheric quality of this process.
Atmospheric Sensibilities: Noise, Annoyance, and Indefinite Urbanism
Marina Peterson is director of Latin American studies and associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts at Ohio University. She is the author of Sound, Space, and the City: Civic Performance in Downtown Los Angeles (2010) and coeditor of Global Downtowns (2012) and Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader (2016).