Just Vibrations

The Purpose of Sounding Good
William Cheng
Foreword by Susan McClary
An urgently needed look at the ethical stakes of contemporary musical life and musical scholarship


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Modern academic criticism bursts with what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick once termed paranoid readings—interpretative feats that aim to prove a point, persuade an audience, and subtly denigrate anyone who disagrees. Driven by strategies of negation and suspicion, such rhetoric tends to drown out softer-spoken reparative efforts, which forego forceful argument in favor of ruminations on pleasure, love, sentiment, reform, care, and accessibility.

Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good calls for a time-out in our serious games of critical exchange. Charting the divergent paths of paranoid and reparative affects through illness narratives, academic work, queer life, noise pollution, sonic torture, and other touchy subjects, William Cheng exposes a host of stubborn norms in our daily orientations toward scholarship, self, and sound. How we choose to think about the perpetration and tolerance of critical and acoustic offenses may ultimately lead us down avenues of ethical ruin—or, if we choose, repair. With recourse to experimental rhetoric, interdisciplinary discretion, and the playful wisdoms of childhood, Cheng contends that reparative attitudes toward music and musicology can serve as barometers of better worlds.

"Just Vibrations is an extremely interesting book written by an exceptionally talented musician. The reflections are far-reaching and a source of much illumination about the function and value of work, hope, determination, realism, and interpersonal care. It is hard to write such a book, but it is very rewarding to read.”
— AMARTYA SEN, Harvard University, Nobel Laureate in Economics and author of The Idea of Justice

Just Vibrations is about unrelenting illness and accommodation to it; about music, politics, and theory, and the thereness of the opportunity they offer to repair diverse kinds of pain. It’s a book of queer struggle, attachment, thought, and love, its face bent toward the sun—and the question mark.”
— LAUREN BERLANT, University of Chicago, Author of Cruel Optimism

Just Vibrations is a passionate and personal plea for a reparative musicology, for a field that favors empathy, compassion, and care. Cheng made me think in deep and not always comfortable ways about my work and my life as a scholar. A beautiful and moving book.”
— JOSEPH N. STRAUS, Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Author of Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music

“Just Vibrations is without question a groundbreaking book, both accessible to a wide readership (including undergraduate students) and theoretically nuanced. Cheng elegantly balances clarity of explanation with scholarly depth and breadth. All this is accomplished through a writing style that is eminently readable, even poetic at times.”
—ANDREW DELL'ANTONIO, the University of Texas at Austin, Author of Listening as Spiritual Practice in Early Modern Italy 

William Cheng teaches music, media, and ethics at Dartmouth College and is the author of Sound Play: Video Games and the Musical Imagination.

Praise / Awards

  • "How can I convey the urgency with which I recommend this book to everyone?"
    --Megan Volpert, PopMatters
  • "Cheng draws on affect theory, care ethics, and queer theory to generate positivity and potential as models. By his own example, he shows that these values advance critical thinking beyond hyper-vigilant, suspicious, paranoid posturing."
    --Choice Reviews
  • "Cheng’s book serves as a clarion call for academics far and wide, resonating across disciplinary affiliations to sound out what responsible scholarship can and should do; and it behoves us to listen."
    --Sound Studies
  • "Just Vibrations should be required reading for every scholar: The culture of academia will never be wholly inclusive if change doesn’t start somewhere, and Cheng...should be congratulated for his efforts."
    --Journal of Musicological Research

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Just Vibrations featured in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine (Link) | 3/16/2016
Read: Just Vibrations listed in Times Higher Education best books of 2016 (Link) | 12/22/2016
Read: Just Vibrations celebrated the Dartmouth News (Link) | 12/7/2016
Read: Just Vibrations discussed in Dartmouth Library Muse article on Open Access text (Link) | 11/14/2016
Read: Poem by William Cheng in Ethnomusicology Review (Link) | 11/10/2016
Read: William Cheng's interview in Junction Magazine (Link) | 9/2/2016
Read: William Cheng's excerpt in the Huffington Post (Link) | 8/23/2016
Read: William Cheng's excerpt in Musicology Now (Link) | 8/26/2016

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 180pp.
  • 17 Images.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07325-2

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  • $49.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05325-4

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  • $24.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90056-5

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  • 978-0-472-00463-8

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  • $0.00 U.S.



  • care, accessibility, repair, music, disability, pain, criticism, play, power, love