Gary C. Woodward wants you to hear him out — really. The author of newly printed “The Sonic Imperative: Sound in the Age of Screens,” argues in his 320-page tome that despite the proliferation of visuals in our culture — hence the screens in the title — hearing is the primal sense.

And while the recently retired College of New Jersey communications professor goes to great lengths to retune one’s thinking to the sounds around us, he also offers a caution: Without giving hearing the respect it needs, individuals are in for a literal ear-bashing.

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Retired College of New Jersey communications professor Gary Woodward is the author of the recently published "The Sonic Imperative."

That point was exemplified at a recent meeting at a public café where our choice was sit inside and listen to songs from the 1980s played at high volume or sit outside and listen to the traffic. We picked the latter and got a bonus of two customers’ dogs barking at each other.

“I just retired last year,” he says over the din. He provides an account when teaching a philosophy of communications course where “my film students would say they were visual thinkers” uninterested in exploring the importance of sound and language and how it affected their work.

Calling their response “bullshit,” he told them the “roots of your ability to communicate is through language.”

He tells me, that interaction “became an impetus for a book” and “a counter argument to film students to take language and sound more seriously.”

He also loads his defense with a good number of references to filmmaking and popular entertainment. That includes filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas.

As an example, Woodward hones in on Lucas’s original “Star Wars” entry, the 1977 “A New Hope” and the introduction of the lightsaber.

“What makes a lightsaber so interesting?” the professor with a doctorate in rhetoric rhetorically asks and then answers in his “Hollywood and the Art of Sound Design” chapter. “Without its auditory buzz it is a right but not very intimidating flashlight. Its lethality was in how it sounded.”

“I have a memory in the book about walk into a mine,” he says referencing an experience he had during his boyhood in the mountains outside Denver, Colorado.

He says although it was dark he and his brother began to enter it. But before they did, his brother decided to throw a rock ahead of them. Its sound indicated that it landed in an invisible deep hole waiting for them.

“We need to understand that we’re in debt to sound. It is greater than you think. We’re producers of sound but not producers of light. We don’t flash to each other. We speak. Children cry.”

While he calls sound the first in the hierarchy of senses, he also says that thanks to the invention of magnetic tape recordings and all the products it has produced that “sound is the newest sense.”

“After World War II, we’re all interested in sound. You have kids addicted to music forgetting that if they had been born 200 years ago they wouldn’t have heard a concert.”

“I was just attracted to sound as a kid,” Woodward says about his interest in the subject of sound. “I can tell you the first record I heard. How fascinated I was listening to radio. A band would be playing every night from Elitch Gardens (in Denver). They were broadcast on KOA (radio), and I lay in the dark and listened to the music. I loved brash band music.”

That love translated into learning to play the drums and playing “though college and made enough money to pay for some of my college.”

He says his musical playing career ended when he stood up to play during a performance and fell off the stage. “It made me think that I should be a listener.”

The son of a steel businessman sums up his early student days as mediocre until he got interested in speech classes in high school. “That was a kind of the reason to pursue sound later,” he says.

Demonstrating the cliché that the past is prologue, he says the much younger Woodward used a single tube radio kit and copper wires to create a short range AM radio station that broadcast to the end of the block. Later, before teaching radio classes at TCNJ, he was a college radio station manager in California where in addition to playing music he began capturing “interesting voices.”

His interest in voice and sound led him to the University of Pittsburgh, where he received his doctorate in rhetoric and continued his interest in sound and its shape. “In rhetoric you talk a lot about form. A sermon has a form. Any time you’re telling people they’re going to hell in a handbasket, there has to be a form. It was a way of organizing the aural media to understand. We expect the sermon to have some shape. The same is true with a composer. We have predisposition to look for patterns, the logic of form.”

He adds that he came to New Jersey when he applied for an opening at the then-Trenton State College. “I thought I would be there for a few years. I was there 47 years. It worked out to be good.”

In addition to teaching classes, he wrote several other books including one on autism and was interested in spectrum-related problems related to speech and hearing.

The current book also touches on problems. “One of the themes in the book is on how much damage we’re doing to our ears. Most of our friends have hard of hearing issues. They have digital aids.”

And while he says part of it is a function of aging, he also points to “disorderly sounds,” including recordings featuring the repetition of low one-note bass.

He says during two years of research he did for the book, he was surprised by the percentage of people experiencing hearing loss. “One in three,” he says, adding that much of it is “self-induced” by listening to loud music — even with headphones. “We have fragile sense organs we abuse.”

As examples, he says that a few years ago his wife took him to see a famous rock band. “It was so loud. I couldn’t believe that people could stand that. And of course, they lose part of their hearing. The cochlea in the ear canal dies under too much sound pressure. We weren’t made to hear sound at 130 decibels. And our ears don’t tell us that, they have a way of softening loud sound. But they can’t match what we offer.”

Woodward also senses another problem. “I’m unhappy in restaurants. If you have a small room and glass, it sounds like you’re sitting at Chuck E. Cheese. Small rooms have mode problems and pick up 400 hertz sounds and amplify it. It just smothers the rest of the room in sound.”

He says that with sound being tolerated and people accommodating it, pretty soon going out will be like attending “an arena concert.”

And far from just an inconvenience or annoyance, reduction and loss of hearing may have deeper impact.

Woodward says the inability to hear “holds people back from one another and support systems and causes earlier death. People need to stay connected. We need the anchors of sound.”

There is also the loss of simple pleasure. “Some of the best moments of life are listening to music or hearing someone speak. Life doesn’t get better than listening,” says Woodward.

Addressing the various topics of the book and his immersion into areas of sounds, such as his visit to a Philadelphia Phillies game (with nearly 1,400 loudspeakers to keep the crowd pumped up) and various sound-related innovations that happened in New Jersey, Woodward says, “Sometimes (academics) slice and dice sensory topics into little bits. But we need a holistic approach to media. We need to get real and take a phenomenological view. We need to get that point of the senses.

“My regular publisher didn’t want a nontechnical book and wanted a theoretical book. Since it is coming from an academic publisher not offering me anything, I decided to do it all myself. This is a declaration of independence.”

The Sonic Imperative: Sound in the Age of Screens by Gary C. Woodward, 320 pages, $16, www.theperfectresponse.com.

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