Sound Technology and the American Cinema: Perception, Representation, Modernity

By James Lastra; John Belton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
SOUND THEORY

While the basic issues I have identified as arising from the emergence of the technical media are in some ways of quite general import, the manner in which any particular representational technology is normalized, regularized, and institutionalized is always quite specific. Just as the nature of Marey's and Helmholtz's experiments placed specific representational demands on contemporary sensory devices in order to render them adequate to the rigors of science, the emerging phonography and film industries asserted their own requirements for the proper implementation of both camera and sound recorder, shaping their characteristic uses in thoroughgoing ways. Contrary to what we might expect, explicitly theoretical debates about the general nature of technological representation were central to the development of Hollywood representational norms, and helped determine how sound technologies were understood and deployed. Particularly at moments of institutional crisis, reorganization, and transformation, these debates assumed a discursive importance that often shaped technological research and aesthetic experimentation, serving both as practical standards and regulative ideals.

In this chapter I will explore several influential manifestations of sound theory, examining them not only for their internal coherence and insight but also for the role they play in determining different forms of representational practice. As I have suggested in previous chapters, I am not only interested in how explicitly theoretical arguments illuminate our understanding of aes-

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