Record, Rewind, Rewrite. Acoustic Historiography with the Presidential Tapes (2017)

Monika Dommann

About this exposition

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.
typeresearch exposition
keywordsPresidential Tapes, Tape Recording, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, History, Acoustic Historiography, USA, Media, Politics, Public History, Sonic Studies, Journal of Sonic Studies, Sound
last modified19/01/2017
published inJournal of Sonic Studies
portal issue13.
connected toJournal of Sonic Studies

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