The three sound files per row are of similar duration and represent layers of a filtering process: the original source (left) is Boris Previsic’s complete reading of the German version of his article Acoustic Micro- and Macroephemeralities in Literature. Robert Walser’s Microscript 364 (1925) and Peter Weber’s Silber und Salbader (1999), home-recorded in five takes on his mobile phone. These takes have been filtered with a reciprocal mp3-filter by Hannes Seidl (middle) and the five resulting sound files inspired Lucas Niggli to five Sound Essays with the same duration (right). The readers are invited to mix their own version out of the different layers.
Record, Rewind, Rewrite. Acoustic Historiography with the Presidential Tapes
A tool of audio manipulation available to all (recording, fast-forwarding and rewinding, dictating, deleting, overwriting, etc.), tape recorders became a universal feature of offices and living rooms in the 1950s. Between 1962 (when John F. Kennedy installed a secret recording system in his Oval Office) and July 1973 (when Richard Nixon’s extensive recording system was revealed in the aftermath of Watergate and switched off on 18 July) (Haldeman 1988: 86), taping was even used by American presidents as a secret memo technique. From the perspective of the history of knowledge and media studies, this article examines the explosive political force of sidestepping the ephemerality of verbal communication through the secret tape recordings, historical and archival examinations of the Presidential Tapes and their remixes in Public History and film projects, where communicative acts once concealed from the public now continue as endless media loops. A paradoxical form of acoustic nostalgia emerges here: It tackles the problem of invisible power and ritualised politics with a sensorially-accessible “presence” and acoustically-perceptible corporeality – drawing on media in the process. The plea for acoustic historiography developed in this article is an examination of the soundscapes previously neglected by historiography but augmented by media history. While historiography, up to the 20th century, could record the sounds, tones and voices of the past only through writing, the Soundscape Projects initiated by R. Murray Schafer since the 1970s used tape to store and document sound and to create acoustic archives. Since the 1990s, the digitalization of analogue magnetic tapes has facilitated previously inconceivable access to acoustic sources and contributed to the rise of Public History within general societal awareness. Acoustic historiography must therefore engage with the media characteristics of recording and playback devices; the social situations in which recordings are produced; the potential of acoustic sources for storage, manipulation and transmission and their use in art, politics and society.
Experimental Cylinders – Experiments in Music Psychology around 1900
This article asks how the availability of recording in the sound archive changed the way in which researchers and music listeners related to musical performance. I focus on a study of intonation that Otto Abraham carried out between 1906 and 1923 at the Phonogramm-Archiv in Berlin and that he published in a Festschrift for Carl Stumpf. Abraham conjectured that individuals experience their singing as correct, even when measurement demonstrates that they have actually deviated strongly from the values required by musical notation. As he was able to demonstrate through a series of recordings of singing individuals, this also holds for professional singers and those with absolute pitch. I suggest that the singing of one amusical subject was critical in bringing melodic contour, as a Gestalt quality of song, to the fore as an answer to Abraham's problem, because the recording allowed this individual to articulate his listening in addition to his singing.
Listening to the Body Moving: Auscultation, Sound, and Music in the Early Nineteenth Century
This paper explores the sounds of the body in an era before sound could be recorded as sound, the first half of the nineteenth century. Focusing on the French physician René Théophile Laennec’s study of cardiac disease and in particular his use of auscultation, it asks how the early nineteenth century conceived of a sounding living body, specifically how auscultation and body sounds produced new knowledge about the body, health, and disease. I show that Laennec thought of the body and the heart in terms of a musical instrument, and argue that the limits to auscultation’s diagnostic power lay not so much in its inability fully to explain disease as in Laennec’s analogy of body and musical instrument, medical understanding and musical skill. This soon gave way to a new understanding and soundscape of the body, as nineteenth-century physiologists investigated the body with instruments that could penetrate the body ever more deeply.
Writing the Ephemeral. John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing as a Landmark in Media History
John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing is one of his early, legendarily forbidding speeches first held in 1950. The score of the lecture can be understood as a reaction to one of the most momentous cuts in twentieth century’s media history. Cage’s lecture overtly responds to the establishment of the electromagnetic recording, storing and distributing of acoustic material after World War II by reflecting on these technical developments. The text, however, also accurately and subtly reacts to the profound destabilization of the relationship between literacy and orality triggered by these inventions by applying new methods of writing.
Seen as such, the Lecture on Nothing can be connected to Cage’s electronic music on audiotape, Williams Mix for example, and his elaboration of 4’33”, which forms the basis of his “silent pieces.” What unifies these three contemporaneous, but essentially different, works is their thought-provoking semantic emptiness. This article argues that these works are best understood as an artist’s quest for an adequate semiotic means of writing an aural event after electroacoustic media have become widely accessible.
Smorzando. Chopin on the MP3 player
My article focuses on the phenomenon of the ephemeral in music in general. I would like to stay with piano music for a while, where the rapid fading away of tone is normal, and a central component for the regulation of this process, the damper, is called il smorzatore in Italian. The Préludes Op. 28 by Frédéric Chopin will serve as one example; I will later move on to a piano LP by the Swiss artist Dieter Roth and will end with an orchestral work by the young German composer Hannes Seidl.
Animal Sounds against the Noise of Modernity and War: Julian Huxley (1887–1975) and the Preservation of the Sonic World Heritage
This paper engages with Julian Huxley’s and Ludwig Koch’s sound recording of animals and the production of “soundbooks.” This collection and preservation of animal vocalization is discussed in the larger context of Huxley’s engagement with nature conservation that included the fight against the noise of modernity. He also promoted the protection of nature through the medium of film and its capacity to store and distribute sounds. I focus on Huxley’s directorship of the London Zoo (1935-42) but follow these endeavors up to his involvement in the foundation of the WWF. Once again, the parallels between zoo – where the sound recordings were made – and film, which also presented animated animals, through human and/or animal sound, become apparent. For Huxley, animals could not possess language; that was the preserve of the crown of evolution, i.e. humankind. But they should have a voice. Finding the right voice to politically represent animals on record, film, or cartoon proved to be a long journey.
Phonograph, symbolic. Acoustic Evidence in Arno Holz’ Phantasus
The fundamental innovations in modern German verse around 1900 can be ascribed to the emergence of technological media rather than to a deliberate departure from metrical tradition. In 1879, Friedrich Nietzsche had already approached a new style of writing that emulated the performance of oral speech and its singular visual and acoustic phenomena that had become recordable with photography and, as of 1877, with the Edison phonograph. In this article I will focus on the “phonographic” writing techniques of the German naturalist-poet Arno Holz that take the insurmountable difference between the medium of writing and the singular acoustic happening as their precondition. A technique that can be called “acoustic evidence,” employed in Holz’s cycle of poems *Phantasus* (1898ff.), indicates sounds not through writing traditional musical notation or alphabetic letters, but rather by crossing out writing. In this way, Holz’s verses indirectly reference the new “orchestra of life” that Edison’s phonograph had brought into the discourse.
Acoustic Micro- and Macroephemeralities in Literature. Robert Walser’s Microscript 364 (1925) and Peter Weber’s Silber und Salbader (1999)
The genesis of Robert Walser’s Mikrogramm 364 (Microscript 364) follows an acoustic trace which positions itself at a deliberate distance from visual mediality, constitutes itself in sequences of assonances, and oscillates between poetry and prose. Acoustic microephemerality is thus the actual motivating force behind writing. Peter Weber’s novel Silber und Salbader employs similar sound processes in the creation of syntagmatic linkages, although he “sediments” this narration in historical and geological soundscapes, which the macroephemerality of acoustic retention tries to overcome by means of a literary vision. Drawing on Roman Jakobson’s “poetic function,” it is demonstrated, through example, how the acoustic elements of their texts are central to the poetology of both authors – for each, however, from a different perspective: acoustic micro- and macroephemerality, respectively.
Archive, Collection, Museum: On the History of the Archiving of Voices at the Sound Archive of the Humboldt University
Available today under the name of the Berlin Sound Archive (Berliner Lautarchiv) or the Sound Archive of the Humboldt University (Lautarchiv der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) is a collection of now largely digitalized sound storage media begun in 1915 (https://www.lautarchiv.hu-berlin.de/, all internet references retrieved 24th June 2016). The collection includes shellac records with recordings of prisoners of war (1915-1918), sound recordings of the voices of so-called famous personalities (1917-1939), speech samples of German dialects (1921-1943), and recitations of poetry and literature in German (1930s and 1940s) as well as magnetic tapes from the 1960s that have not yet been transferred to a digital format. While, since its inception, the collection has repeatedly been referred to as a sound archive, prior to the digitalization of the shellac holdings in the 1990s this term never found its way into any of its official names. Against this background, this article traces both the Sound Archive’s early institutional history (1915-1947) as well as the use of the term “sound archive.” By considering the archiving of voices in the framework of an emerging history of knowledge, it explores the disciplinary contexts (the academic sciences) and configurations of conservation, research, and presentation (collection, archive, laboratory, library, and museum) in which the preserved human voice operates as an epistemic object. On the basis of a renewed examination of a number of sound recordings of prisoners of war, it should be shown how this historical material can be made productive for current research horizons.