Listening to the Body Moving: Auscultation, Sound, and Music in the Early Nineteenth Century (2017)

Janina Wellmann

About this exposition

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.
typeresearch exposition
keywordsRené Théophile Laennec, auscultation, Sonic Studies, Journal of sonic studies, sound studies, music, medicine, nineteenth century, france
last modified19/01/2017
published inJournal of Sonic Studies
portal issue13.
connected toJournal of Sonic Studies

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