Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Gramophone's Technological Uncanny


" The time is out of joint. Time is out of joint, time is unhinged. The hinges are the axis around which the door turns. Cardo [hinge of the door, the semantic root of "cardinal" numbers], in Latin, designates the subordination of time to the cardinal points through which the periodical movements that it measures pass. As long as time remains on its hinges, it is subordinate to movement: it is the measure of movement, interval or number. This was the view of ancient philosophy. But time out of joint signifies the reversal of the movement-time relationship. It is now movement which is subordinate to time. [ . . .] Time is no longer related to the movement which it measures, but movement is related to the time which conditions it." (Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy, vii, 1963).


Further to Mark K-Punk's continuing investigation of sonic hauntology, phonograph blues and the technological uncanny:


Starting From Scratch: Remembering the Gramophone in Literature, Music, and Film

Remembering White Noise: R. M. Rilke’s Gramatophonocentrism

Bram Ieven

This paper introduces the general topic of the session, memories of the gramophone in other media and in the arts. To do so, I first introduce a theoretical apparatus that might help to circumscribe the phenomenon at hand. I argue that the grammatology Derrida developed in the sixties shows traces of the gramophone and that this theory itself can be mobilized again to conceptualize the gramophone as a medium for storing information (technical memory). Derrida, I argue, was himself influenced by the paradigm of material inscription that was set out by the gramophone, which clearly shows in his definition of the grammè as the material inscription that destroys the possibility of direct experience but at the same time makes sensation possible. (Derrida 1967: 19-20) Derrida’s critique of phonocentrism, which is based on his theory of the grammè and the trace, is redefined by Friedrich Kittler as an ascendant of the gramophone: “The trace of all writing, this trace of pure difference, is simply the needle of a gramophone.” (Kittler 1986: 55)

Having introduced the theoretical apparatus, I turn to a concrete example of the remediation of the gramophone: the remediation of white noise in Rainer Maria Rilke’s work. Reflecting on the classes in anatomy he attended in Paris, Rilke describes how he was struck by the meandering seam that crosses the crown of the scull. To him this seam looked as if it was drawn by the needle of a gramophone, and a primal noise (Ur-Gerausch) could perhaps be heard if a needle would scratch over the seam. (Rilke, in Kittler 1986: 66) Rilke’s reflection is emblematic for how the gramophone found its way into the arts in general, and into literature in specific. I will trace the influence of white noise in Rilke’s work, with specific attention for his short text on primal noise and Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge.

"You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet": The Voice as Object in Early Sound Cinema

Yasco Horsman

This paper discusses the intrusion of the voice in the two ‘first’ commercially released sound films: The Jazz Singer (1927), a musical starring singer Al Jolson, and a Mickey Mouse short, Steamboat Willy (1928), which was marketed as the first animated cartoon with sound. Both films are highly self-conscious in the way they employ the new technology of sound cinema. The story-lines of both Steamboat Willy and the Jazz Singer revolve around the voice. In both cases, the voice is not so much an organ of speech but is first and foremost used for singing, an activity which is presented as slightly obscene and invested with an enjoyment that is rather anti-social. My paper points to the fact that the preoccupation with this singing voice leads both films to make a similar visual pun in which the voice is depicted visually as an object that has a certain autonomy with regard to the singing subject. This object becomes a puncture that threatens to unravel the texture of the cinematic text (in The Jazz Singer) or a blur that distorts the film anamorphotically (in Steamboat Willy). I argue that these crucial scenes in both films point to the ‘scandal’ of the gramophone, an uncanniness that is at the heart of this technology, and –perhaps surprisingly- suggest that cinema had relied on the very ‘dumbness’ of its silent phase for its coherence. The ‘remediation’ of the gramophone in early sound film, then, is revealing with regard to both media.

The Original Scratch: Hip Hop Scratch Techniques in Between Art and Medium

Jan Hein Hoogstad

Although Thomas Edison primarily developed the gramophone as a medium to store and transmit human speech, it was also used to record music from the start. Nonetheless, this technical device first acquired its real musical potential with subsequent inventions. The first of these shifts was the introduction of multi-track recording technology. The recording now no longer necessarily maintained a mimetic relation to the recording session, but is changed into a complex sonic landscape of voices, sounds and other noises. The same argument can also be applied to the concept of time. Multi-track recording should be conceived as an event that breaks the mimetic relation between the temporal structure of the original and the copy. As a result, a gramophone record is not marked by a unidirectional temporal motion, but forms a temporal patchwork of different time tracks.

The technique of scratching – as developed by New York hip-hop DJs at the end of the 1970’s – marks a second shift in the history of the gramophone. The scratch changes the record player from a recording device into a musical instrument with its own distinctive sound. Because this sound is unique, it quickly became a source of recording itself. In other words, with the invention of the scratch the gramophone simultaneously completed the circle and made a new beginning.

When we look closer at what a scratch exactly is, we will notice that it is marked by the same paradoxical movement as its invention as such. The scratch is at the same time a jump back in time and a new beginning. Although this temporal movement is a disposition of the gramophone as such, it cannot be conceived from an intermedial perspective. The scratch can only be initiated by an external – rather than a transcendent – actor. In my presentation I want to develop scratching with Heidegger’s concept of Ursprung (origin, but literally primordial jump). As opposed to Ursprung, however, the scratch does not go back to a single origin. Because the vinyl has become a temporal patchwork, the scratch can go back to multiple beginnings. For that reason, the scratch not only transforms a technical device into a musical instrument, it is also a cultural technique that manipulates the course of time.



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