Ii histories of sound 2 histories of sound and technology
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II. Histories of Sound 2. Histories of Sound and Technology. Listening tech( nique )ology in 19 th century medicine (Nicolson ) The phonograph in lab experiments in the early 1900s ( Kursell ) Historiographies of mechanical music (Katz )

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II. Histories of Sound 2. Histories of Sound and Technology

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II. Histories of Sound

2. Histories of Sound and Technology


  • Listening tech(nique)ology in 19th century medicine (Nicolson)

  • The phonograph in lab experiments in the early 1900s (Kursell)

  • Historiographies of mechanical music (Katz)

  • Music in the era of electronic reproduction (Mowitt)


1. Having the Doctor’s Ear in 19th Century Edinburgh


  • Auscultation (based on the Latin verb auscultare "to listen") is the term for listening to the internal sounds of the body, usually using a stethoscope.

  • Auscultation is performed for the purposes of examining the circulatory system and respiratory system (heart sounds and breath sounds), as well as the gastrointestinal system (bowel sounds).


René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec


Pages from De l’auscultation mediate (published in 1819) showing Laennec’s stethoscope design


Laennec’s stethoscope (lf.) compared to a contemporary design (rt.) – see discussion of N.P. Comins’s development of a flexible model (p. 160-161)


Was the introduction of auscultation in Britain a contested process?


  • Paris: Laënnec’s invention of the stethoscope in 1816, and published De l’auscultationmediatein 1819

  • Edinburgh: Andrew Duncan and other’s review of De l’auscultationmediate:

    • More a text on pathological anatomy than one on diagnostics;

    • Difference between academic and practical knowledge of the techniques of physical examination


  • Impact of trained stethoscopists like Andrew Cullen and John Crauford Gregory

  • From 1825 onwards, new theories developed independent of the French source by James Hope, John William Turner and others (p. 159)

  • Improvements on the instrument: N.P. Comins

  • By 1828-9 stethoscope use was taught in medical textbooks


  • By 1831: innovation of stethoscopy transferred from Paris to Edinburgh

  • Why Edinburgh?


2. A Gray Box: The Phonograph in Laboratory Experiments and Field Work, 1900-1920


The phonograph as a site of intersection for technology, experimental practices,

and ways of hearing and listening, none of which were stable. (p. 178)


The Phonograph as a scientific instrument :

  • Prior to mass production

  • FleemingJenking and J. Alfred Ewing’s experiments on speech and voice

  • Suggested new ways of asking question

  • New ways of producing data, new methods of correlation

  • A new challenge to laboratory work: experimenters had to use their ears


Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’sPhonautograph, 1857


Alexander Graham Bell & Clarence Blake’s Ear Phonautograph, 1874


Rudolph Koenig’s

ManometricFlame Apparatus, 1862


Carl Ludwig’s Kymograph, 1840s


  • The medium is not a given entity but rather an unstable and heterogenousobject

  • Some level of technical reliability and established modes of use made it possible to study the phonograph itself

  • There is an inherent ambiguity in the use if a medium, seen in the process of its emergence. (p. 179)


  • Kittler’s technological a priori: Media analysis has been understood to help focus on the instability of the notion of a medium… most accounts of media technology could not work without a notion of medium that took its definition for granted rather than explain it. (p. 192)


The phonograph was central to the founding of ethnomusicology. (Berlin Phonogram Archive, founded in 1908, and others like it established to preserve samples of music that were as yet unknown to researches, and were in danger of being lost forever.

Frances Densmore recording Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief on a cylinder phonograph for the Bureau of American Ethology in 1916


3. The Amateur in The Age of Mechanical Music


Exploring the role of amateur music in the age of sound recording and reproduction technologies:

  • John Philip Sousa’s warning in 1906 (Why did he object to mechanical music?)

  • Did levels of interest in amateur music diminish as Sousa predicted? 1890-1910

  • Katz argue that amateur music persisted not despite the presence of mechanical music, but in response to the possibilities of these technologies

  • User-centered perspective: SCOT (the social construction of technology)


4 Case Studies:

  • Phonograph and player piano (1900-1920) U.S.

  • Karaoke (1970s) Japan—U.S.

  • Hip-hop (1970s) U.S.

  • Music video games and mobile phone music (late 1990s to present) Global


For Thursday: Choose a sound technology and do research on the historical developments and factors that shaped its present form, then compare that history to one that we studied this week. Create a blog post and be prepared to discuss in class.

Also please bring your phone if you have music apps on it!


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