This article reframes the history of recorded sound to take phonographs and player-pianos into account on more or less equal terms. It argues that the two technologies developed in complementary, dialectical relation to each other: one analog, storing and conveying an acoustic event (i.e., sound-in-time); the other, digital, storing and conveying in binary form information for (re)producing sound (i.e., sound-in-knowledge). Analyzing the production of sound along the same lines as Harry Braverman's analysis of manufacturing and automation, the article treats the phonograph and the player-piano as aspects of musical mechanization, which had expanded dramatically through the piano in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both the phonograph and player-piano technologies reverberated in the formation of modern society, the phonograph exemplifying the phenomenological rupture of time and space, the player-piano embodying the epistemological shift marked by machines storing and executing growing amounts of human knowledge, from automated industrial manufacturing to computers. The final section of the article considers the malign and utopian symbolism of the player-piano in the work of William Gaddis and Conlon Nancarrow, among other other writers and composers.
Sound, Knowledge, and the “Immanence of Human Failure”: Rethinking Musical Mechanization through the Phonograph, the Player-Piano, and the Piano
David Suisman; Sound, Knowledge, and the “Immanence of Human Failure”: Rethinking Musical Mechanization through the Phonograph, the Player-Piano, and the Piano. Social Text 1 March 2010; 28 (1 (102)): 13–34. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2009-058
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