2018 Theses Doctoral
Expériences sonores: Music in Postwar Paris and the Changing Sense of Sound
This dissertation examines the impact of electronic sound technology on theories and practices of listening in Paris since 1945. It focusses on experimental work, carried out by musicians and medical professionals and designed with the express purpose of transforming the minds, bodies, and experiences of listening subjects in order to produce “experimental listeners.” Why did the senses become a target of manipulation at this particular moment, and how was technology used and abused for these ends? What kinds of changes to human beings, permanent or otherwise, was sound technology imagined to produce? And on what grounds were such experimental activities legitimized? To answer these questions in high definition, the story follows two main protagonists: otolaryngologist Alfred Tomatis and composer Pierre Schaeffer.
Chapter 1 provides a launch pad into the world of Tomatis’s unconventional listening therapy by focusing on the invention in 1953 of the Electronic Ear, a device that could be described as an experiment in sensory prosthetics. Chapter 2 looks at Schaeffer’s experimental research into listening—through his “sound objects”—where his ultimate goal was to establish an entirely new musical culture based upon a new sensibility of sound awoken by the novel sound technologies of his day. The third chapter dissects Tomatis’s unlikely “postmortem” analysis of Enrico Caruso’s ears. Under the microscope in Chapter 4 is Schaeffer’s practical relationship with his public and his theoretical understanding of the mass media.
Combining musicology with the history of the senses, science studies, and sound studies, and drawing on archival research, I excavate the material and epistemological resources mobilized by these experimenters to make malleable the sense of sound: not only resources broadly understood as “scientific” (mainstream medicine, cybernetics, information theory, acoustics) but also those often considered less so (psychoanalysis, alternative medicine, mysticism, and a panoply of spiritual beliefs). The project scrutinizes attempts to transform lived experience using electronic sound production technology; more broadly, it explores the meaning of the technological itself and its capacity to contain strange hybrid machines caught between fact and fiction, science and magic, human and non-human, matter and spirit, and certainty and wonder.
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More About This Work
- Academic Units
- Thesis Advisors
- Lewis, George E.
- Ph.D., Columbia University
- Published Here
- July 1, 2018