The next session of our seminar will focus on technological fantasies related to sound reproduction media – from the phonograph to more modern versions, such as compact discs or LP records.
The text chosen is a chapter from Canadian scholar Jonathan Sterne’s The Audible Past. Jonathan Stern, a Canadian media historian who specialized in sound studies, is a very famous and influential scholar in the field of media studies. The text is quite long and relatively complex, so it is all right if you read just part of it. But please try, and ask me questions if you didn’t understood something!
In class, we will not only focus on the nineteenth century, but also on contemporary fantasies about sound media, in order to show the connections between history and the present day.
The key concept I would like to discuss with you is that the fact that it was possible to record sound exercised a powerful fascination on the contemporaries of Edison, the American inventor who introduced the phonograph in 1877. For the first time, it was possible to preserve something which was considered extremely volatile, such as the human voice. “Verba volant, scripta manent” (in English, “spoken words fly away, written words remain”), claims a Latin proverb. After 1877, people had to realize that also “verba” could remain. The resulting fascination for sound recording technologies is still to perceive today, in different forms, in a variety of contemporary fantasies about sound reproduction.
Here you can find some more information on the history of sound recording.