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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction by Jonathan Sterne

His Masters Voice: original painting.  Is the talk sitting on his dead masters coffin?  That is the argument of Jonathan Sterne

The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction
by Jonathan Sterne
Duke University press, 2003

   This is another title from the depths of my Amazon Wish List- circa.... 2006?  Eight years since I wanted to read this book?  Sounds about right.  The Audible Past is interesting, but only to academics or would be academics.  Sterne has many interesting points to make about the cultural origins of sound reproduction, but he often couches his prose in the post-modern cultural theory that is the bane of turn of the century cultural academics.  His subject sits at the intersection of cultural studies and the history of technology, so some jargon is to be expected.

  Sterne has two main points to make: First, that the origins of sound reproduction extend back in time beyond the 20th century.  His main examples are the development of the stethoscope and telegraph in the 19th century.  Here he seems to be combating the idea that sound reproduction somehow sprang fully formed from Bell and his telephone, with the phonograph being the important successor technology.

   His second point is that there were a variety of different purposes for sound reproduction in the beginning of the phonograph era, and the idea of reproducing music on vinyl disc was not the first, second or third choice.  He delves into the example of using the phonograph to record the voices of dead people, and the idea that it would be primarily used as a substitute for stenographers.

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