The Making of Early Literary Recordings
Jason Camlot



Analog, Digital, Conceptual

THIS BOOK HAS told several stories about how some of the earliest sound-recording technologies adapted or mobilized literary works in such a way as to form new literary artifacts. I have argued for a methodology of audiotextual criticism that does its utmost in the first instance to account for the relationship between media format and modified conceptions of genre or form as applied to the audiotext. And I have demonstrated a variety of ways in which one may proceed to historicize early spoken recordings in the context of the literary, while speculating on the value for literary studies, and cultural studies in a broader sense, of the critical historicization and formal analysis of spoken sound recordings. An important aim throughout has also been to provide a framework for understanding the early literary history of spoken recordings, to develop a prehistory to the massive corpus of literary sound that has been developed (on magnetic tape to begin with) since the 1950s, which has been the primary area of interest for literature scholars until now. Telling the longer history of literary recordings provides new contexts for thinking about the rich and diverse archive of post–World War II literary sound, while articulating and modeling new methodological approaches that will be of use in the analysis of literary recordings and to the pursuit of phonopoetics as a critical project in all literary historical periods.

Something else readers may have sensed, if not explicitly noticed, while reading this book is that the essential nature of the artifact at the core of this study—the status of the literary recording, the audiotext as a cultural object, a thing—has become increasingly complicated, difficult, less substantial, and more conceptual in its ontological contours. The Introduction began with explicit details about the nature of early sound-recording technologies and media formats in relation to particular examples of literary recordings. As digital reproduction of the recordings under consideration became part of the literary analysis, our understanding of the object of study grew deeper and more ethereal at the same time, as if we were traveling further into a cloud to find its source. The very idea that there can be a material record of a sonic event is called into question again. This is exactly where we want to be at this point in Phonopoetics.

This conclusion reflects further on the nature and status of the sound recording as an object of critical study at the present time by considering the materiality of the audible artifact and the event-oriented scenario of its use. In the process, it offers new points of departure for historically motivated theorizations of the voice recording and the voice archive. Neither “artifact” nor “event” is a simple term to define in relation to sound phenomena. R. Murray Schafer distinguishes between the sound object and the sound event by identifying the former with the acoustician Pierre Scheaffer’s clinical definition of l’objet sonore, a specimen of recorded sound considered “in physical or psychophysical terms . . . without their semantic or referential aspects,” and the latter as “something that occurs in a certain place during a particular interval of time” for which questions of “context” apply. The “soundscape” by extension, “is a field of interactions” consisting of component sound events.1 Don Ihde, in his explorations of sound phenomenology observes that, “insofar as all sounds are also ‘events,’ all the sounds are within the first approximation, likely to be considered as ‘moving.’” Ihde, in this instance, imagines sounds as divorced from visible objects, existing as auditory presences within the horizons of silence that surround them.2 In both cases, one might say that the sound object is identified with some primitive version of the audio signal, itself, rather than with a material artifact that either produces or preserves it. Historical sound seems to present itself as a unique kind of artifact to the critic in that its nonvisual presence may make it seem more ephemeral than other kinds of visible, material artifacts, like manuscripts, for example, and because its presence depends on controlled temporal movement.

This last point is at the heart of Friedrich Kittler’s insistence that sound-recording technology has had a transformative impact on our relationship to the past. Stressing first the importance of the nineteenth century’s break with notational systems of transcription (for music, harmony, etc.) through its introduction of the concept of frequency—by which “the measure of length is replaced by time as an independent variable”—Kittler goes on to say that this transition from transposition to what he calls time axis manipulation (enabled by the concept of frequency) results in the real taking the place of the symbolic.3 This is because technological media capture, preserve, and (re)produce aspects of the temporal event that the alphabet cannot, delivering the past without “the bottleneck of syntactical regimentation” associated with symbolic language.4 As it captures and produces “the real” in its capacity to record a temporal event, the artifact that arises from technological media is mathematically and materially intertwined with the event it preserves. That time itself becomes a variable to be manipulated with technological media (you can speed up, slow down, or reverse the direction of the record) suggests that our capacity to manipulate the media artifact, not only enables us to process historical “real time” so that it is experienced as a temporal event in the present, but to transform historical “real time” into events of alternate temporal orders as well. When we are talking about sound recording, the intervolved relationship of artifact to event suggests the possibilities of replaying history and of making history.

In using the term “artifact,” I am, to begin with, aware of its primary meaning referring to “an object made or modified by human workmanship, as opposed to one formed by natural processes.”5 The early spoken recording sits oddly at the crossroads of art and nature as both a crafted speech and a sound wave, an empirical phenomenon mechanically captured. The implications of this crossroads position has preoccupied me in many of the readings I have pursued in this book, from my consideration of early ways of framing the meaning of the voice of the phonograph, to my discussion of T. S. Eliot’s experiments in voicing multiple perspectives with a practiced kind oracular-mechanical intonation. Just what, in fact, is the artifact of the sound archive, and how has it shaped our ideas and expectations of what the contents of such a repository are? Where the early Edisonian idea of an archive of voices was selective and specific in its imagined motivations of use, contemporary capacities for digitization and media aggregation raise the possibility of expanding our own idea of a historical archive of voices from including “the best that has been said” to “everything said that has ever been recorded.” My exploration, in this Conclusion, of the questions posed above will proceed with an awareness of the digitally mediated reception of our regular experience of the archival signal, the audio that emanates, post–media migration, as if from some notion of an ever-expanding archive of voices.

Theorizing the implications of the digital reproduction of sound is crucial to the development of phonopoetics as a historicist critical practice. When I began research for this book, many years ago, I was required to visit sound archives in buildings made of bricks and mortar to listen to the recordings I wished to study. I was installed in a listening booth with a bench, a table, a loudspeaker, and an intercom system that allowed me to communicate with the technician who would play a record for me once, twice at most, lest the replay result in detrimental deterioration of the material sound media artifact whose contents I wished to hear. I listened carefully, desperately, one might say, knowing that every passing moment represented unique and fleeting access to the object—the audiotext—I wished to think about. I took notes, jotted down “time-stamps” of particular sonic features that interested me, did my best to capture for critical discussion what I was hearing. In some instances, the sounds that I listened to were already affected by earlier reproduction processes. The T. S. Eliot instantaneous disc recordings, for example, had been transferred to magnetic tape in the 1970s, and it is from these tapes held at the Library of Congress, and not the acetate and aluminum discs held at the Columbia University Archives, that I first heard Eliot’s experiments in modernist verse speaking. This means that the signal I was hearing through the loudspeaker in the Library of Congress listening booth had already been through a degree of transformative processing. It had been sent across wires to a pre-amplifier, possibly boosted, compressed, equalized according to particular frequency curves, and those transformations were then captured in the reorientations of the magnetic domains of the oxide particles embedded in the tape that would come to preserve the remediated signals for decades to come. Eventually, with the aid of some research funds, I was able to pay to have the Eliot readings I wished to study transferred to digital WAV files and given to me to take home on archival quality compact discs. In a sense, that was the key, transformative moment, as far as Phonopoetics research was concerned. Digital media technologies seemed to have liberated the sound artifact from its traditional preservation archive. I could now take the archive home with me and do what I pleased with the digital files they gave me, with one important exception: I was not permitted to disseminate them publicly. But I could run them through digital filters, edit them, line them up in multitracking software for comparison to other Eliot recordings, run them through spectral analysis software to help me think about Eliot’s reading techniques, use them in teaching, and even integrate them into multimedia scenarios of literary performance.

WAV files on a compact disc may now seem as archaic as engraved signals on wax a cylinder. The scenario of alleged archival liberation that I have just described has expanded exponentially with the compression of digital audio media formats, the expanded capacities of digital storage (on hard drives and servers), and the related possibility of streaming and disseminating these files via online digital environments. Recordings that I had at one time only read about in rare record catalogues found at national libraries and archives in London, Washington, and Ottawa can now often be found with a simple Google search, sometimes in the YouTube videos of audiophiles and record collectors eager to share their new discoveries, and, increasingly, in online archives like the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive, designed to digitally preserve, document, and disseminate (with free downloads) as many examples of early audio recordings as possible.6 Our experience of historical audio recordings is now increasingly (if not decidedly) a digital experience.7 Consequently, we must proceed in our work with an awareness of its implications for our practice as cultural historians. Proceeding with an awareness of the digital does not imply a circumvention of the original material artifacts in question; nor does it erase a critical motivation to locate historically the voices in this expansive archive—but it qualifies both the artifacts and our historicist motivations in significant ways. Conceptual and computational manipulation of the audio signal as divorced from the original material artifact allows us to engage in new kinds of contextualization and expands our capacity for philological engagement.

A list of historical media artifacts used for sound capture over the years—phonautograph sheet, cylinder, record disc, tape, compact disc, mp3 file, to name some of them—presents a variety of physical substances ranging from paper, metal, paraffin and plastic, and ends in the ironic fact of the mp3 as a new kind of entity, one that is less substantial than representational (one cannot hold an mp3 file, but one can handle it—select it, “click” it—as a digital representation presented through software, a graphic user interface and the specific hardware, computer, iPod, etc.) that delivers the GUI. Each one of these media artifacts, whether it is substantial, or not—and its audible content—invites the critic to engage in self-conscious scrutiny of the possible status of that artifact within the context of digital rendering. Increasingly, audio artifacts demand the use of digital tools that enable new possibilities for navigation, manipulation, visualization, and examination of the audio signal, and, in some cases, the sonification of visualizations derived from the original material media formats, themselves. It is the digital side of historical audiography that I will focus on in this conclusion as I meditate on the status for historical research of the artifacts that comprise the archive of voices at the present time.

I will return to the work of Jerome McGann one last time to help expand my previous arguments about audiography to the digital sphere. In his recent discussions of digital media in relation to research in the humanities, McGann argues that “what digital technology has exposed is not that we need a new program of humanities study, a Digital Humanities, but a recovery of philological method for our changed circumstances. Philology in a New Key.”8 By philology McGann means, a discipline of skills designed to “preserve, monitor, investigate, and augment our cultural inheritance, including the various material means by which it has been realized and transmitted.”9 Noting how the migration of our cultural heritage into digital formats has exposed “the serious limitations” of our critical methods for capturing the “vast network of agents and agencies” through which the material objects that compose the historical record have passed, McGann argues that “only a sociology of the textual condition can offer an interpretive method adequate to the study of this field and its materials.”10 McGann’s call for a philology in a new key entails a renewed application of practical skills, procedural and interpretive tools that include descriptive bibliography, scholarly editing, theory of texts, book history, and, I would add, media history and theory, to the new kinds of databases and interfaces we are creating. This is the big work in the growing field known as the digital humanities that has begun, the kind of work that has motivated initiatives like NINES (Nineteenth-century Scholarship Online),11 and many of the individual web projects that have been aggregated into that consortium. Rigorous engagement with the physical materials—volumes of The Yellow Book,12 artworks, ceramics, and realia on display in John Ruskin’s St George’s Museum in Sheffield, England,13 multiple copies of William Blake’s illuminated books,14 Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts,15 Walt Whitman’s notebooks16—that populate sites designed for their digital presentation results in well-researched glosses adjacent to the digital images of the materials, just as the audiophiles delivered for playback and download in the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive are accompanied by extensive metadata on each audio file that can be heard. Indeed, beyond the informative gloss, rigorous historical engagement with digitized historical artifacts, under the best of circumstances, results in thorough metadata, and, consequently, expands the ways in which we may remodel and investigate our understanding of historical cultural artifacts. Online, we do not touch paper, canvas, clay, or wax. We organize richly prepared simulacra of the artifacts we imagine to be a part of our rational archive in an environment that exposes them to transformative imagination.

In this sense, the digital “archive” is not to be understood as a preservation medium, but as a circulation and transformation medium that opens texts and material artifacts to new contexts, new interpretations, and new uses, including transformations of our conception of historical research itself. This work is not a replacement for more empirical methods of writing history, but makes us aware of the significance of media contexts for the kinds of history we wish to pursue, and the kinds of assumptions about the status of the artifacts we wish to contextualize. It also allows us to discover aspects of our objects of inquiry that might not have been discoverable had they remained in a single media format.

To approach texts and objects in the digital environment is to encounter the destabilizing material element inherent in all cultural artifacts, which encourages an approach to research materials as “differential texts,” a term introduced by Marjorie Perloff to mean “texts that exist in different material forms, with no single version being the definitive one.”17 Following the media theorist Darren Wershler, I transmute Perloff’s term and support a claim for the concept of “differential media” as one that demands our awareness of the transformative impact of media contexts as an object of interpretation migrates across, or exists multifariously within, different media platforms.18 In the natural sciences, a differential medium refers to a growth (“culturing”) medium containing compounds that work to visually distinguish microorganisms by the way the colony either appears or contrasts with the surrounding medium.19 This idea of the differentiation of content by a medium is relevant to the present discussion insofar as the media through which a signal may migrate will distinguish certain of its characteristics, and erase others. The idea of differential media seems particularly well suited to a consideration of a historical sound recording that can be said to exist, uniformly (“that Tennyson recording”) yet differentially, on cylinder, LP, audio-cassette tape, and as an mp3 file (not to mention as a textual transcription or visual representation).

There are other concepts with currency that might be considered for our purposes, but they don’t work as well for sound. Katherine Hayles speaks of “media specificity” to delineate the characteristics of media environments in relation to the development of digital texts—the movement “from the language of ‘text’ to a more precise vocabulary of screen and page, digital program and analogue interface, code and ink, mutable image and durably inscribed mark, texton and scripton, computer and book”20—but the concept is too visual in its orientation to serve the present meditation on the archive of voices; Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s elaboration of “remediation”—while extremely useful for, among other things, its observation that “no medium . . . can now function independently and establish its own separate and purified space of cultural meaning”—seems similarly biased toward the visual arts and visual media.21

The idea of differential media in relation to sound media technologies and formats can better accommodate Kittler’s sense of the continuity between technological media and digital media as differential (yet continuous) forms of data processing, so that the wax cylinder and the mp3, the phonograph and the digital audio workstation (DAW) can be conceptualized, at one level, as engaging in the same processes of temporal manipulation, but through different media formats and interfaces, and with significantly variable degrees of transformative impact on the audible temporal event. “Differential media” is also a useful concept for considering the possibilities and implications of migrating our own digital interventions, our digital “archive” projects, maps, databases, and visualizations back into print or other media formats—perhaps even audible formats—and for imagining new forms of scholarly production that are not exclusively concerned with designing web sites.

As I hope I have shown throughout this book, much significant work that can help us understand the import of how we search, write, think, and hear has emerged from media historians who have developed concepts of comparative “new” media, “format studies,” “platform studies,” and media archeology, respectively.22 Such cultural theorists and historians are working to articulate the presuppositions we bring to our new media environments, to have us see the historical underpinnings of what we suppose. This is part of the work that needs to be done, and it functions in line with McGann’s call for a “philology in a new key.” And then there is a more ludic, experimental kind of digital engagement that I would argue also has an important role to play in the present recalibration of our understanding of what we, as literary and cultural historians, can do in relation to our changing media environments. These more experimentally transformative kinds of digital engagement can function as useful and revealing methods of experimental critical play. As Jussi Parikka has argued, play and tinkering can be an important way of revealing the subphenomenal ways in which technical media function. When understood as part of didactics, “such a manner of tinkering with media-technological effects” can form a productive “circuit with theoretical work.”23

Two dominant branches of digital work in the humanities have been those pertaining to “humanities computing” (tool building, text analysis and encoding), on the one hand, and “new media studies and design” (often pursued by theorist-practitioners interested in exploring the nature and implications of new media), on the other. Alan Liu has framed an analysis of the value and potential of both branches just mentioned by considering their relative degrees of critical awareness. Observing, first, that the expanding domain of digital humanities must “in some manner, for better or for worse, . . . serve the postindustrial state,” Liu decides that “the digital humanities are not ready to take up their full responsibility [within the discipline] because the field does not yet possess an adequate critical awareness of the larger social, economic, and cultural issues at stake.”24 Historicist audiography and the broader field of phonopoetics is concerned with the historical recontextualization of an analogue signal and its related media so that we can gather the aesthetic, social, and material relations that informed their use and meaning.

Strange new things can be done to sound media artifacts using digital processes. Scraps of tinfoil once used to capture the voices of speakers and destroyed to prevent possible use on a tinfoil phonograph machine can be made to sound again. Something happens when the analogue artifact is approached with a digital process. A fragment of phonographic tinfoil captured by the University of Southampton’s Sound Archive Project researchers as a high-resolution 3D digital scan, performed for preservation purposes and for digitally generated replay by a virtual stylus, is transformed by a precise coordinate mapping (including the calculation of depth) of the cylinder scrap’s surface, from which a quantitative analysis of signal reproduction can be generated.25 Such processes offer a new answer to the question that asks what a dumb and static sound memento, like a cutting from a tinfoil phonograph sheet, might mean and be as a historical artifact in the present. As Ihde has speculated, sound—with its intrinsic movement, and its affirmation of the verb over predicate, represents a challenge to the “realm of mute objects” that has functioned as “the implicit standard of a visualist metaphysics.”26 The digital process works to render the material fragment eventful and potentially whole again. Assuming the possibility of artifacts as abstract, immaterial entities—for example, the way a thesis exists as a necessary, universalizing artifact for philosophical discourse and the production of certain kinds and movements of knowledge—I would suggest that the analogue sound recording, when approached through digital processes, mutates from a delimited, manifest material thing into an eventful performance of the abstract ideal of that material thing.

A binary conception of silence as static and sound as kinetic is reversed when we move from analogue models of sonification to digital ones. This is most dramatically apparent in the recent sonification through digital scanning of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph transcripts. Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph was introduced circa 1860 as a way of writing sound, rendering it visible and (ideally) legible. It was not designed for sound reproduction. Thus, from Scott de Martinville’s perspective, a phonautogram was not a sound recording in the way we understand that category today. It was a graphically captured sound inscription; a machine-generated audio fossil—a static artifact materially bearing the trace of a once living sound event. The First Sounds researchers27 have reanimated these artifacts into actual sound events again by playing back high-resolution digital scans of the phonautograms (with a lot of adjustment and preconception) via digital sonification.28 One example of this work is the sonification of Scott de Martinville’s voice singing the folk song “Au clair de la lune.”29

In their first attempt at sonification of the phonautogram sheet (the March 2008 release), prior to their discovery of documentation suggesting that it was recorded by Scot de Martinville himself, the pitch of the voice and sonic quality of the recording rendered resembled that of an otherworldly, angelic young woman, as if the voice of La Svengali as described in extensive, elaborate passages from George du Maurier’s fin-de-siècle novel Trilby itself had finally been allowed to sound again as it did in the Paris of du Maurier’s imaginary.30 “The romantic image of a woman singing to us through the veiled curtain of time was at the heart of Scott’s allure as we introduced his work in 2008,” the First Sounds researchers observe.31 With the new information, adjustments were made to approximate the pitch of voice that might have emanated from Scott himself. Such flights of fancy aside, the process used to generate such a recording represents an audible rendering, through new media, of a visual script of voice that was never intended to be heard and is, in effect, a digital reversal of Scott de Martinville’s intention. He sought to turn sound into visual data, but the First Sounds researchers have reconverted his visual data back into sound. And thus, where once there were only silent sheets of smoke-blackened paper, the potential for a new historical sound archive of phonautograms emerges.

The process that allows for such a creation is an innovative form of digital processing that the folklorist and First Sounds researcher Patrick Feaster calls “paleospectrophony.” The goal is to use digital tools to convert waveform images of different kinds into playable frequency and amplitude values, enabling us to hear them, in a form of Friedrich Kittler’s “time axis manipulation.”32 While originating from a material visual object, the audio artifacts generated from this technique are born digital and thus represent a digital realization of the abstract idea of the phonautogram as an audible artifact. When we listen to such a sonified recording, one might say, we are listening to the sound of a conceptual artifact.

What we have with such examples are signals that may, or may not have existed in relation to their corresponding material artifacts, and the ability to speculate about the status of this signal as an actual archival artifact that has been simultaneously generated and divorced from its original, material medium. Digital processes of visualization and sonification of audible frequencies paint a picture of our desire to substantiate the fugitive signal as materially artifactual and historically authentic. The deeper we immerse ourselves in such highly mediated representations of the signal of historical voices, the more familiar we become with the elaborate conceptual properties of the artifacts of the historical voice archive. In a paradoxical way, the further we move from the material artifact itself, the closer we come to touching its seemingly intangible, historically entrenched features. This, I must admit, is an optimistic formulation of the implications of the digital for the kind of grounded philological research methodologies McGann calls for.

The discourse of liberation that I have used above to describe what happens to a material audio artifact when it is digitized and freed from its bricks-and-mortar archive can be subject to caution and critique as well. In a recent essay translated with the title Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? Jean Baudrillard speaks to the inherent dangers of our movement from analog to digital in useful, if apocalyptic terms. Reflecting on reality-capture media and the traces they leave behind, Baudrillard speculates that it is not “the real and the reality principle” that we worship in them, but “its disappearance.”33 As Baudrillard goes on to argue, this state of “disappearance” arises from computer systems operating and replacing “any thought-sensitive surface of confrontation” with limitless proliferation and flow. The 0/1 binary construct of software programs, he says, removes “any suspension of thought between illusion and reality” and replaces it with “a single integrated circuit.”34 Secrets and pleasures, and the possibility of critical knowledge become lost in the flow of the massive digital stream as we come to confuse thought and imagination with boundless proliferation. Analogue media, in the process of disappearing, represent a last point of possible resistance according to this argument. The analogue medium allows for our sense and understanding of such disappearance. As an indexical medium, as a trace of the real, the analogue artifact already communicates the significant loss in what it provides. So, according to this logic, the recording of a speaking voice communicates the disappearance of the event of speech that it attempts to preserve in another form. The analogue artifact functions as the anchor for our conceptual distinction between the real and its mediated capture, which signifies a loss. While the real does not exist (for real) in the mediated capture of the event (e.g., in the wax cylinder), the idea of the real, our sense of the real, and our sense of our loss of the real, does exist in our experience of it. According to Baudrillard, analogue media preserve this sense of the real—and hence awareness of its absence—which paradoxically reinforces our conceptual faith in its existence.

The proximity of digital literary recordings to printed texts allows us to imagine other possible modes of engagement with the historical corpus of literary readings, digitally sampled from all prior sound media—for example, allowing new media technology to practice what is known as “unsupervised learning” and discover things for itself. Unsupervised learning seeks to find hidden structures in data (in our case, digitized audio) that has not been marked up for the detection of particular properties (in the manner that I have annotated my tiny data set of Victorian elocutionary recordings, or T. S. Eliot recordings, for specific manifestations of pitch, duration, and amplitude). This alternate conception of critical “listening” (in quotation marks) in the form of unsupervised learning moves away from discursive contextualization, historical narrative, and even traditional metadata, into an algorithmic reading of the sound signal as numerical data. It proceeds without any concern for the real, or its disappearance, or other such dialectical fits that Baudrillard attributes to an analogue medium. Unsupervised learning does not think and learn against or in relation to a conception of or longing for the real. Instead we have a vision that has been articulated elegantly by the media theorist Wolfgang Ernst who argues that the archive “is no longer simply a passive storage space but becomes generative itself in algorithmically ruled processuality.”35

The archive of voices according to this idea, already disengaged from its original media formats, can evolve and propagate in infinite iterations and directions and generate new variations on an ever-growing data set of digitized sound. This vision of an ever-increasing archive of digital voices differs significantly from the vision of archival futurity characterized by augmented capacities in deciphering previously undetected but real traces of events, articulated by Charles Sanders Peirce when he wrote: “Give science only a hundred more centuries of increase in geometrical progression, and she may be expected to find that the sound waves of Aristotle’s voice have somehow recorded themselves.”36 Rather than find that those sound waves have been recorded somehow, somewhere in the real world, the archive that lives and “becomes generative itself in algorithmically ruled processuality” may discover Aristotle’s voice by other, synthetic means, instead, just as the First Sounds researchers discovered (according to their fantasy), a woman’s voice through the veil of time in a phonautograph sheet. Would there be a discernible difference between Aristotle’s voice in the two kinds of archives? Would we care about any such difference, or even understand its significance in “a hundred more centuries”? Baudrillard would answer in the negative to this last question.

My own answer to the question, on the other hand, resists the binary to end all binaries that Baudrillard seems to set up by pitting the analogue against the digital in the way he does. It resists by adding that third term, conceptual, into the formula. In listening to the sound of a conceptual artifact (as I have described the digitally sonified phonautogram) we are impelled into confrontation again, in this case, into a critically productive confrontation with the tangible techniques, effects and meaning of digital mediation as a historicist practice. In pursuing a critical and historical understanding of literary audio, it is, as I have argued throughout this book, important to locate the history of specific voice recordings within the discursive frames and protocols of production and use that informed those media-documented, historical voices. Going forward, it will become increasingly and equally important and illuminating to explore the resemblances, connections and reorganizations of the “media inherent” elements of the audible archive that digital media enable.37 By engaging in both narrative and discursive as well as “media inherent” methods of engagement, and by articulating the parallels and conflicts we, as historical scholars, perceive between them, we can benefit significantly from the differential media structures that continue to inform and will increasingly shape our attempts to understand the archive of historical voices, and, our attempts to sound the wider world around us.


1. R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (1977; Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1993), 129–31.

2. Don Ihde, Listening and Voice: A Phenomenology of Sound (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1974), 53.

3. Kittler, Gramophone-Film-Typewriter, 24

4. Sybille Krämer, “The Cultural Techniques of Time Axis Manipulation: On Friedrich Kittler’s Conception of Media,” Theory, Culture & Society 23, nos. 7–8 (2006): 94.

5. Oxford English Dictionary,, 1.a.

6. UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive: Further, many of those same rare catalogues, and rarer ones, are now discoverable online via sites such the Internet Archive,

7. I say “not decidedly” because one of the parallel consequences for research on early sound recordings that has resulted from the expansion of the web is renewed accessibility to original material audio media artifacts via commercial auction and e-commerce sites such as eBay. The new possibility of discovering and purchasing archaic media artifacts online has no doubt had a heretofore undocumented influence upon contemporary cultural historians, media historians, and media archeologists.

8. Jerome McGann, “Towards Philology in a New Key,” interview by Scott Pound, Amodern 1 (2013):

9. Jerome McGann, A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 37.

10. Ibid., 22.

11. See

12. See

13. See

14. See

15. See

16. See

17. Marjorie Perloff, “Screening the Page/Paging the Screen: Digital Poetics and the Differential Text,” in Contemporary Poetics, ed. Louis Armand (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007), 379.

18. For an expanded theory of differential media as an assemblage of materials (and their circulation) that characterize a “single” cultural production, see Darren Wershler, Guy Maddin’s “My Winnipeg” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 9–11.

19. Natural philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries used the term “differential medium,” Robert Morrison says, “to denote the material spaces that connected otherwise disconnected points,” usually with reference to “the transmission of forces or particles” across distance. For romantic-era writers it meant, among other things, being in the middle of it, existing within a medium that sustains life activities, or, as Morrison has argued, media came to be understood “not just as vehicles of transmission but also as conditions of possibility for the life and growth of living beings,” like a plant in soil, a fish in water, bacteria cultured in an agar medium. Morrison, Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 145–47.

20. N. Katherine Hayles, “Flickering Connectivities in Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis,” Postmodern Culture 10, no. 2 (2000),

21. Bolter and Grusin, Remediation, 55.

22. As examples of such research, within the order of categories I have used to summarize it, I include Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History and The Data of Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008); Sterne, MP3; Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort, Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009); Matthew Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008) and Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016); Jussi Parikka, What Is Media Archeology? (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012); Ernst, Digital Memory.

23. Jussi Parikka, “Archival Media Theory,” in Ernst, Digital Memory, 14.

24. Alan Liu, “The State of the Digital Humanities: A Report and a Critique Arts and Humanities in Higher Education,” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 11, nos. 1–2 (2012): 11.

25. See

26. Ihde, Listening and Voice, 50.

27. The First Sound researchers include David Giovannoni, Patrick Feaster, Richard Martin, and Meagan Hennessey. Their work focuses on identifying, understanding, and playing very early sound recordings.

28. Jody Rosen, “Researchers Play Tune Recorded before Edison,” New York Times, March 27, 2008, See also:

29. See:

30. See, especially, du Maurier, Trilby, 306–18.

31. See:

32. For a useful description of Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph, and a “discocraphy” of the phonautograms he produced, see Patrick Feaster, “Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville: An Annotated Discography,” ARSC Journal 41 (2010): 43–81.

33. Jean Baudrillard, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared, trans. Chris Turner (New York: Seagull Books, 2016), 32.

34. Ibid., 40.

35. Ernst, Digital Memory, 29

36. The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965), 5: 542. Cited in John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 162.

37. Ernst, Digital Memory, 29.