Carolyn Abbate: "Microphonics"

WhenSeptember 29, 2017 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
WhereJoseph Regenstein Library First Floor
Contact InformationFranke Institute
DescriptionCarolyn Abbate
Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor of Music, Harvard University

Here is a kind of magical thinking that is persistent in Western culture: when a phenomenon gets translated into audible sound or music, a special truth has been made manifest. This epistemological magical thinking can be vividly seen in a history of sound that focuses on microphones, both on primordial pre-electrical microphones of the Enlightenment and nineteenth century, and electrical transmitters (only one prototype was originally called a “microphone”), which originated in the decades of the 1860s-70s, during the Golden Age of new acoustic inventions. The early electrical microphone exactly imitates the anatomical ear, yet this device is virtually absent from academic histories of aurality, listening, and sound technology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The discourse surrounding the microphone can be put into the context of other, more eccentric nineteenth-century acoustic artifacts (the Kaleidophone, the Singing Flame) that claimed to write sound, or turn light into sound. They were coeval with the microphone, and some were mischief-makers that created a theater of sound-as-truth. Their mischief suggests that human longing and legerdemain are significant for any history of sound, listening, or hearing.

4:00 p.m.
Regenstein Library, JRL-122
1100 E. 57th. Street

Sponsored by:
The Andrew V. Mellon Foundation
The Franke Institute for the Humanities
The Department of Music

For more information, contact Bertie Kibreah at
CategoriesConferences/Lectures, Lectures, Arts, Graduate Students
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