3/31: Session 7. Aural Memory

One of the recurring motifs of our series thus far has been the uncanny ways in which our last few panels all seem to have fit better under the heading of the previous session. Mara Mills suggested that her session with Mark Butler could well have been called “Mediated Technologies” (while also observing astutely that the title was somewhat redundant); Vijay Iyer made a similar comment, suggesting that their session might better have fit under a rubric of “Hearing through the Body.”

In many ways, our explorations in Hearing Modernity and the Intonarumori series at the MFA take their starting point in previous conversations, including the question of the mind, experiences of temporality and technologies of the archive. The Hearing Modernity session will feature:

Karin Bijsterveld, “Dissecting Sound: Speaker Identification at the Stasi and Sonic Ways of Knowing

Wolfgang Ernst, “Tempaural Memory: The Role of Historicity, Recollection, Recording and Archives in Sonic Culture

Their session will begin, as usual, at 4:15 pm in Holden Chapel, Harvard Yard.

Earlier in the day, the SMFA Intonarumori series presents Seth Cluett, a sound artist, composer, and scholar who will take on similar themes while presenting his own work.

We are thrilled to have such a rich body of conversations at this point, such that any session might be understood to resonate with previous sessions. But the work of Karin Bijsterveld and Wolfgang Ernst build in particular ways on past conversations. In November, our session entitled Sound in Torture and Surveillance ultimately dealt only with torture (albeit in two highly provocative ways, thanks to Suzanne Cusick and Tom Levin). Bijsterveld’s paper here focuses on one of the most important, and most extensively documented, instances of 20th century surveillance in GDR surveillant listening practices and their archives. Within the US, this topic has become ever more timely with ongoing revelations about the NSA’s practices of data gathering, which still rely on sound technologies even as phone calls are increasingly reduced to sheer data streams, rather than sound per se.

Wolfgang Ernst’s paper takes on–or rather embraces–the notion of “grand narratives” that opened our series. His deep commitments to media archaeological theories and methodologies offer a very different form of grand narrative, one that adopts a technocentric (if not necessarily technologically deterministic) consideration of the passage of time and recording technology.

As a final note, we express our regret to note that our session overlaps with Herbie Hancock’s final talk in the 2014 Norton Lecture Series. His series of talks, The Ethics of Jazz, offer a telling reminder of what music still has to say in a broader conversation of hearing modernity.

-Peter McMurray

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