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

By James Lastra; John Belton | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

The interplay of senses, technology, and aesthetics outlined in the preceding pages haunts us still, shaping our reactions to and understandings of current representational technologies. The scenes we witnessed in the nineteenth century found experimenters explicitly modeling sound devices (for both producing and recording) on the human body in the belief that there was no other logical, or indeed appropriate, way to proceed. Bolstered by a belief in the perfection of God's design of the human voice and sensorium, mechanical attempts to emulate the human became the royal road to scientific knowledge. However obvious, the ideal of human simulation was not the only or the inevitable way to think about sound technology. The other major impulse driving the investigation of sound and the development of sound (recording) devices was to understand the process as a form of writing.

Representation-as-writing found its roots both in the graphical analysis of subtle vibratory movements begun by Robert Willis and E. F. F. Chladni and in the contemporaneous movement to create a nonarbitrary, analogical, and universal form of writing. The phonautographe and its many scriptural offspring, including Edison's phonograph, recorded vibrations in the air, impressing them on foil, lampblack, or wax, in what some described as “nature”s own script.” Even these writing machines were not immune to the drive toward simulation, however, and many were, in fact, constructed from the dissected ears of dogs, cats, and even humans. Embedded in design, purpose, and result, simulation and inscription circumscribed the imagination of

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