The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science’s database “Sound & Science: Digital Histories” is an initiative of the Research Group “Epistemes of Modern Acoustics.” This resource provides access to sources in the history of acoustics, including a multimedia archive of primary source material, documentation of surviving technology, and historical reenactments of experiments in acoustics.
The Media Archaeological Fundus (Medienarchäologischer Fundus, or MAF) is a collection of teaching and working materials held at the media theory department of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The MAF is a valuable source for historians of acoustics because of the range of mechanical and electronic devices that it contains, along with its special focus on operability and technological functioning. Media theorist Jussi Parikka has called it the “original lab” that led to the creation of other academic collections based on experimentation and “artefactual methods” of research.
Leon Chisholm (Materiality of Musical Instruments, Deutsches Museum)
The standard interface of pianos, organs, and other keyboard instruments, with its pattern of twelve interlocking keys, is a compromise by design. The twelvefold division of the scale into fixed pitches has both shaped and served Western music since medieval times. Yet the notes of this scale form pitch relationships that, for the most part, only approximate the intervals of the natural harmonic series. Over the centuries, scientists, inventors, instrument makers, composers, and musicians have explored myriad ways of accommodating and even overcoming this discrepancy. One strategy for mitigating the limitations of the standard keyboard’s twelve-tone octaves has been to add extra notes to create within the keyboard’s scale microtonal divisions, or intervals smaller than a semitone (the distance between two adjacent notes on the piano). Consideration of some notable early modern examples of microtonal keyboards, including those associated with Nicola Vicentino and Gioseffo Zarlino, can help to contextualize later developments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when microtonal instruments served a variety of aesthetic, philosophical, and scientific ends.
Early European settlers brought firearm technology to waterfowl hunting in the Americas. In the late eighteenth century, market hunting of the goose and duck flocks of the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways proliferated. Hundreds of bird species move along the Atlantic coast and from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota and Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, migrating between breeding grounds and wintering grounds, and in the nineteenth century, hunters began using sound to draw down these passing birds.
Viktoria Tkaczyk (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)
Sound is ephemeral. For a long time, it escaped scientific scrutiny, and the invention of the phonograph in the 1870s was celebrated as a long-awaited research tool in both the humanities and the sciences. Before long, various scientific sound archives had been founded for the systematic collection, preservation, and study of sound recordings. Two of these early archival endeavors were located in Berlin: the Phonogramm-Archiv (“phonogram archive”), today part of the Ethnological Museum’s department of ethnomusicology, and the Lautarchiv (“sound archive”), now based at the Humboldt University, Berlin.
Joeri Bruyninckx (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)
Chip-chip-chip-chwee-chwee-tissi-chooeeo! These nonsense syllables have traditionally been used to capture the simple Chaffinch song, often to the despair of both novice birdwatchers and expert ornithologists. It is not to be confused with the Song Thrush’s Chippoo-it tio-tew tutee-o wee-ploo-ploo tu-itty. “Each bird sings its own song,” a well-worn cliché advises, and since the late nineteenth century, birders, naturalists, and biologists have sought to describe those songs to answer fundamental questions about animal communication, behavior, and evolution. But this scientific curiosity long predated actual agreement on how to capture and study such notoriously fleeting impressions with a satisfactory degree of accuracy.
Around 1900, the Leipzig Germanist Eduard Sievers and his students gave new value to the auditory and phonetic aspects of written documents. With considerable methodological effort and public attention, they issued a rousing call for a “philology of the ear” to replace the “philology of the eye.”
05 March 2018
Browse the currently 1745 items in this database here