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Sounds of Subic Bay: The U.S. Navy in the Philippines, 1950-1971


Sounds of Subic Bay is a “history through sound” of U.S. Naval Base, Subic Bay in the Philippines during the 1950s and 1960s. During these two decades, Subic Bay grew into one of the U.S. Navy’s most important overseas military bases due to its role as a repair, supply, and logistics station during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I write about how the sounds produced by U.S. Naval personnel, materials, and infrastructures functioned as structural forces at the base, and I focus on the base’s domestic, city, and industrial sound spaces. I demonstrate that writing history from a sonic perspective complicates and enriches understandings of the Navy’s role and presence overseas in the Philippines. I argue that a sonic analysis of Naval Base, Subic Bay highlights the importance of culture in military histories, and the importance of military analyses to ethnomusicology.

I introduce the methodology “oblique listening,” a technique of reading and analyzing U.S. naval and other archival sources ethnographically. Through oblique listening I identified sound in historical materials and used that information to comment on issues of culture and militarization. I also frame my research around the concept of “self-noise,” a technical, submarine term that I repurpose to interrogate the impact of military sound at Naval Base, Subic Bay. I write about how Navy-produced sounds influenced life at the base, and I ask why those sounds are rarely part of histories of Subic Bay, and how sound changes understandings of the Navy’s history at Subic Bay. I ask questions like, “what did U.S. Naval Base, Subic Bay sound like?” “Why did the base sound the way it did?” “What can sound tell us about U.S.-Philippine history?” “How do sound, politics, and militarization intersect?” “How were military sounds heard and politicized?” I argue that sound reflected and influenced the political, military, and cultural impact of the U.S. Navy in the Philippines. This history through sound of the U.S. Navy at Subic Bay challenges familiar historical narratives of the naval base, highlights neglected people, places, and moments, and demonstrates that sounds are important to and embedded in U.S. Naval history.

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