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From the Hydraulis to Spotify

A media-archaeological approach to sound recording technologies

approach to sound recording technologies “The Golden age of the ear never ended” Alan Burdick Bas

“The Golden age of the ear never ended”

Alan Burdick

Bas Lievens, 3025845 Course: New Media Archaeology, period 1, 2010-2011 Dr. Imar de Vries





1. A media-archaeological approach


2. The concept of sound


3. Archaeology of sound recording and distribution



The analogue era


The Phonograph and Gramophone


Tape recording



The digital era


The Compact Disc


Streaming music: Spotify







Methods and media for sound recording are varied and have undergone significant changes ever since sound was recorded for later playback until contemporary usage and distribution. In this essay I would like to trace the development of sound recording and distribution technologies and establish the historical context and the social and economic conditions in which these developments have occurred. Our contemporary society is dominated by information and media technologies. It seems that our lives thrive on the promises that are made by new media. With the click of a button we can receive every kind of information that we wish, at any time. From an archeological viewpoint it is necessary to find out whether these promises only count for contemporary media or if they were just as influencing in controlling consciousness in former times. I argue that we can only fully understand contemporary sound recording and distribution practices like the streaming music service Spotify if we take a closer archaeological look at its predecessors. In this essay I want to create a media- archaeological analysis of sound reproduction, distribution and organization. In doing so I want to establish a methodology that enables me to take a comparative look at former analogue storage media and the digital ones that dominate our society today. I want to create such a methodology in order to discover the processes which underlie and condition human behavior. Therefore I will try to determine which mechanisms and processes can be identified as recurring and which ones are specific to the medium’s historical, political, economic, social and cultural configuration. This is necessary because these archaeological artifacts cannot be substituted. They are the only affirmation of the past evolvement of our society. The ambition of this essay it to establish a better comprehension of the concepts that surround sound recording, consumption, distribution and organization. In order to understand how music is consumed, distributed and framed a historical analysis is needed. Therefore this essay will examine and debate historic formations and contemporary conceptions of the central concepts that are involved in understanding sound recording and distribution technologies. I will analyze how sound reproductions and distributions technologies came into existence. Next to that I will try to determine how the history of sound recording and distribution technologies affected the meaning that is still connected to contemporary conceptions of these technologies. This archaeological analysis is based on the practice of Michel Foucault, Erkki Huhtamo, Lister et al, Vicent Mosco, Imar de Vries, Simon Frith and Jonathan Sterne. The concepts that are considered are: sound, sound recording and distribution technologies and streaming music. The theoretical and methodological framework of this essay derives from a literature study of the just declared scholars. Next to that I should note that I gained a lot of useful academic thought during the course New Media

Archaeology, led by assistant professor and new media and digital culture scholar Imar de Vries at the University of Utrecht. In chapter one I will present the discourse on media archaeology and explain why this methodology is useful for this essay. Chapter two starts with an explanation of the concept of ‘sound’, and will explain how production and reproduction of music can be divided into two stages, each organized around different technologies of musical storage and retrieval. In Chapter three I want to find and arrange some of the most important changes that occurred throughout the history of sound reproduction and distribution. I will investigate the most important occurrences, practices, and cultures of sound reproduction and distributing during the historical period from the late twentieth century up till now. In the conclusion I will summarize my findings.


A media-archaeological approach

There are different ways for researching the concepts of sound reproduction and distribution technologies and its history (Ooijen 2011). One could for instance investigate the history of these practices and describe its technological artifacts. This kind of approach would create a fantastic historiography but it would not tell us anything about the motives behind sound reproduction and distribution. The French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault has an archaeological approach. Archaeology is the scientific study of the human past. It can be described as the construction of cultural chronology or the reconstruction of past life ways, but the ultimate objective of this study is the determination of processes which underlie and condition human behavior (Archaeology sd). Foucault investigates how meaning is produced through history by analyzing the historic discourses that surround concepts like sound reproduction and distribution (Foucault, 1969). Foucault has a dominant way of looking at the world (Vries 2011). Therefore he developed the notion

of épistèmè which stands for the understanding of knowledge and science and its mutual correlation

within a particular period (Vries 2011). As a historian Foucault serves as a critic of traditional notions of history and challenges traditional assumptions about progress, rationality and linearity (Hatch 2003). Foucault argues that the traditional method to describe history, rests on interpretations which

assume a cause effect relation between different historical periods. These interpretations influence the way we think about history and the concepts that it produces. Foucault therefore argues that as

a historical method, we have to examine statements inside their historical context, or discursive

formation. We have to approach history archaeologically, argues Foucault. An archaeological description of a discursive formation is concerned with the actual rules which define why it is specific (Vries 2011). Therefore we have to look at the rules and principles that are specific to the discursive formations for there are no deep underlying structures that create meaning (Foucault, 1969).

What Foucault learns us, is that we should focus on describing discursive formations that exist in different épistèmès. In order to continue media-archaeologically we have to put statements

in a discursive historical context (Vries 2011). In this essay I will therefore describe the practice of

sound reproduction and distribution in critically analyzing the historical context in which these concepts came into existence and how they developed into the streaming music services that we use today. Why did these sound recording and distribution practices actually come into existence, what where the motives, and in what kind of culture did these practices evolve? I will use the archaeological approach proposed by Foucault. In doing so I want to discover the different connotations in which sound reproduction and distribution technologies have been understood. I will

investigate how different conceptions on sound reproduction and distribution have been understood and transformed through history in order to understand how meaning in produced, as Foucault

argues. What Foucault does not, however, is illustrate how the transformations between discursive formations actually work (Vries 2011). Professor and media archaeologist Erkki Huhtamo studies the form of the transformations between discursive formations (Vries 2011). In the article From Kaleidoscomaniac to Cybernerds. Towards an Archeology of the Media (1996), Huhtamo argues that the way in which people react to new media, throughout history, have the same constructions. In the article he describes two occurrences which portray the feeling of being immersed into a medium. Huhtamo argues: Again, we may ask if there is any sense in looking for connecting links between these occurrences, wide apart in time and space. I would like to claim that these parallels are not totally random, produced indigenously by conglomerations of specific circumstances. Instead, all these cases ‘contain‘ certain commonplace elements or cultural motives, which have been encountered in earlier cultural processes. I would like to propose that such motives could usefully be treated as topoi, or ‘topics’, applying to the field of media studies *…+ Topoi can be considered as formulas, ranging from stylistic to allegorical, that make up the “building blocks” of cultural traditions: they are activated and de- activated in turn; new topics are created along the way and old ones (at least seemingly) vanish (Huhtamo 1996).Huhtamo thus argues that some things in media are innate and they therefore govern how we think and write about new media (Vries 2011). He defines these as ‘recurring elements’ and argues that in literature these elements become clichés (Vries 2011). These topic or topoi’ mould our experience and: Even though they may merge as in unconsciously, they are, however, always cultural, and thus ideological, constructs (Huhtamo 1996).Huhtamo has a somewhat different believe than Foucault. Huhtamo argues that some thoughts or beliefs are innate, no matter which culture you are part of (Vries 2011). Foucault does however not want to look at intuition (Vries 2011). As I described in the paragraph above, Foucault does not believe in deep underlying structures that create meaning. Huhtamo’s thoughts are valuable for this essay though, because the development of media culture can be traced by studying the recurring elements and motives which make up cultural traditions. His archaeological method helps to put technological development into a more sophisticated: Social and cultural frame of reference (Huhtamo 1996).Therefore I will continue to critically approach the concepts of sound reproduction and distribution technologies media-archaeologically, and try to find the recurring elements which make up the cultural tradition in where music is produced, consumed, distributed and organized. New media scholars Martin Lister, Jon Dovey, Seth Giddings, Iain Grant and Kieran Kelly also participate in the media-archeological discourse. In the book New Media: A Critical Introduction (2005) they argue that: Media historians have a sense of déjà vu – of having ‘seen this’ of ‘been there’ before (Lister, et al. 2002, 62).They go on to say that: This is more than a matter of history repeating itself. This would amount to saying that the emergence and development of each new

medium occurs and proceeds technologically and socio-economically in the same way, and that the same patterns of response are evident in the members of the culture who receive, use and consume it (Lister, et al. 2002).Lister et al seem to agree with Huhtamo in arguing that there are recurring elements in media. They provide, however, an extra explanation for the existence of these elements (Vries 2011). They argue that the ‘sense of déjà vu’ arises from: “The repetition of deeply ingrained ways in which we think, talk and write about new image and communication technologies (Lister, et al. 2002, 63).” So what they are arguing is that topoi appear due to ingrained fears, hopes, desires or fantasies (Vries 2011). This academic thought is useful for this essay because these ingrained fears, hopes, desires and fantasies are described in literature where they have become myths or clichés and therefore can be found and analyzed by scholars. As Imar de Vries argued during the New Media Archaeology course at Utrecht University: “Stories have an impact on our conceptions of media. These stories they might be false, but still, have agency and therefore change our conceptions of media (Vries 2011).” Therefore it seems necessary analyze the stories that surround sound reproduction and distribution technologies and find out whether they changed our understanding of media.

Vincent Mosco, a professor of Sociology of Communication and Information Technology investigates the: Myths constructed around the new digital technology and why we feel compelled to believe in them (The MIT Press sd),” in his book The digital sublime. Myth, power, and cyberspace (2004) Mosco argues that cultural chronology is in fact a: Willful amnesia (Mosco 2004, 8).Mosco thus gives an explanation why we actually want these ‘new’ technologies and their myths. Mosco argues: Myths are stories that animate individuals and societies by providing paths to transcendence that lift people out of the banality of everyday life. They offer an entrance to another reality, a reality once characterized by the promise of the sublime (Mosco 2004, 3).What Mosco claims is that we want to believe that new media are actually better for new technologies promise the transformation of society (Vries 2011). Mosco argues that these constructed myths are not just fictions, but stories that can lift us out of the ordinariness of our lives into the possibility of the sublime (Mosco 2004, 3). It is the technological imaginary that is key here. Lister et al argue:

“Technological imaginary draws attention to the way that, dissatisfaction with our social reality and the desires for a better society are projected onto technologies as capable of delivering a potential realm of completeness (Lister, et al. 2002, 60).And in order to find what the effect of a new medium is we have to look at these stories (Vries 2011). In summary, in this essay I will analyze sound reproduction and distribution technologies from a media-archaeological approach. In order to investigate the transformations between the discursive formations that Foucault describes I will use the archeological work of Erkki Huhtamo on recurring elements or topoi: “That serve as formulas which that make up cultural traditions

(Huhtamo 1996).” Lister et al explain that these recurring elements or ‘sense of déjà vu’ stem from:

Deeply ingrained ways in which we think about communication technologies (Lister, et al. 2002).” Vincent Mosco explains that the myths are stories which have impact on our conceptions of media. Therefore I will consult historical archives and try to find the myths or stories that surround sound reproduction and distribution technologies and explain why there stories came into existence.

2. The concept of sound

Before I will present core of the formations, the rules and principles of sound reproduction and distribution technologies, I will first explain the concept of sound. In the discourse of sound reproduction and distribution technologies, soundis the commodity that we can perceive. The following chapter on the concept of sound will construct the cognitive foundation in which the practice of sound recording and distribution is to be understood. What exactly is ‘sound’? Rebecca Mileham, an academic writer for the magazine Engineering and Technology of the Institution of Engineering and Technology wrote an article called Sounds of History (2009). In this article Mileham interviews Richard Ranft, head of the British Library Sound Archive. In the article Mileham argues that: Sound is small fluctuations in air pressure over time *…+ yet the way humans interpret sound is overwhelmingly complex and significant. A sounds pattern can bring tears to our eyes (Mileham 2009, 22).” Mileham thus argues that sound seems to be more than the vibration of the surrounding air because it is subject to human interpretation. I want to make clear that in this essay I will not be contributing to the academic study of what sound (or music) is or means, nor will I investigate the subjectivity of these concepts due to human interpretation. My focus primarily lies in a short exploration of the concept of sound for it is the commodity that is recorded on a sound carrier. Roy Shuker, a professor from the Victoria University of Wellington and teacher on Popular Music Studies and Media Policy, argues there is a difference between musical soundand noise. He explains: “In physical, scientific terms, sound is the sensation caused in the ear by the vibration of surrounding air, or what is or maybe heard. Musical sound is produced by continuous and regular vibrations, compare to ‘noise’ as disorganized sound (Shuker 2005, 250).” What Shuker argues is that sound can be divided into musical sound and disorganized sound. In this essay only musical sound is examined. Again, the object of study in this essay is the practice of sound recording and distribution. I want to find out why this practices came into existence, and how its history affect meaning that is still connected to contemporary notions of recording and distribution sound.

The English sociologist Simon Frith defines the practice of sound recording and distribution as the ‘technology of music’ in his book Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (1996). He

argues that this domain can be separated into three stages: In its most basic definition, the technology of music simple refers to the ways in which sound are produced and reproduced. From this perspective the history of music can be divided into three stages, each organized around a different technology of musical storage and retrieval (Frith 1996, 226).” Frith thus argues that we can analyze the history of music by tracing the different technologies of sound production and reproduction. The three chronological and historical stages Frith describes are the ‘folk stage’, the ‘art stage’ and the ‘pop stage. Frith argues that: “In the first (or “folk”) stage music is stored in the body (and in musical instruments) and can only be retrieved through performance (Frith 1996, 226).” He goes on to explain that the essence of this kind of music is marked as ritual or is totally integrated into established social practices like for example ‘work songs’ or ‘lullabies’, the songs that are sung for children before they go to bed. Frith thus argues that the folk stage only exists in performance, part of social practices of conventional life. Therefore this stage seems of little interest for this essay since there is not yet sound being recorded for later playback. This is also the case in the second stage, although there is some kind of recording practice: In the second (or “art”) stage, music is stored through notation. It can still only be retrieved in performance, but it also has now a sort of ideal of imaginary existence *…+ Music becomes a potentially sacred experience; it gives us access to the transcendent (Frith 1996, 227).” So what Frith states is that music becomes documented in a written representation. Although there still is no option for playback the documentation does offers a route into the mind of the creator of the music. In this stage: “The musical mind is thus elevated over the musical body (Frith 1996, 227).” The final stage seems valuable for this essay because, according to Frith, in this stage music can actually be stored and retrieved: “In the final (or “pop” stage), music is stored on phonogram, disc, or tape and retrieved mechanically, digitally, electronically. This transforms the material experience of music; it can now be heard anywhere; it is mobile across previous barriers of time and space; it becomes a commodity, a possession. And yet ideologically as a matter of interpretation and fantasy - the old values remain (presence, performance, intensity, event), and listening to recorded music becomes contradictory; it is at once public and private, static and dynamic, an experience of both present and past (Frith 1996, 227).” In this description of what Frith calls ‘the third, or pop stage’, it becomes clear that due to sound reproduction the ‘material experience of music’ is reconstructed into a time and place surpassing commodity that one can actually control. In his argument, Frith talks about transforming, mobility, control, interpretation, fantasy and values. All these concepts are constructed in a historical context that Frith defines as the ‘pop stage’. It is important to understand that these concepts are ideological constructs that arrive in a specific historical context, or as Foucault would call them; discursive formations. Within this context there are specific rules and principles that make it specific (Vries 2011). There are however

similarities between the different historical contexts or ‘stages’ as Frith calls them. I am talking about Huhtamo’s topoi or recurring elements, the cultural and thus ideological constructs which make up cultural traditions, like for instance the practice of recording sound (Huhtamo 1996). Lister et al give an explanation for the existence of these recurring elements. They argue that they stem from deeply ingrained ways in which we think about communication technologies (Lister, et al. 2002). It is obvious that there are hopes, desires and fantasies in the pop stage of the technology of music, as Frith argues. In order to find them Associate professor Jonathan Sterne of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies of McGill University argues that: A focus on sound-reproduction technology has an added value for the historian of sound: during their early days, technologies leave huge paper trails, thus making them especially rich resources for historical research (Sterne 2003, 7).” Therefore I will analyze the myths and stories that surround sound reproduction and distribution technologies, which can be found in historical archives (Vries 2011).

3. Archaeology of sound recording and distribution

What is sound recording? Shuker argues: “Sound recording is the process of transferring ‘live’ musical performance on to a physical product (the recording). The history of sound recording is one of technical advances leading to changes in the nature of the process, and the tasks and status of the associated labour forms. Such changes are not narrowly technical as different recording technologies and the associated working practices *…+ enable and sustain different aesthetics (Shuker 2005, 252).” Shuker recognizes that the history of sound recording is not solely dependent on technical advances. Sterne has a similar view and claims that we should avoid a technological determinism while analyzing sound reproduction technologies. Technologies don’t just: “Come down from the sky to “impact” human relations (Sterne 2003, 7).Instead, Sterne argues that: “Sound-reproduction technologies are artifacts of particular practices and relations *…+ they can be considered archaeologically. The history of sound technology offers a route into a field of conjunctures among material, economic, technical, ideational, practical and environmental changes. Situated as we are amid torrential rains of capitalist development and marketing that pelt us with new digital machinery, it is both easy and tempting to forget the enduring connection between any technology and a larger cultural context (Sterne 2003, 7).” Sterne seems to agree with Huhtamo and Lister et al in arguing that there is an enduring connection due to recurring elements. However, he states that:

“Technologies are interesting precisely because they can play a significant role in people’s lives *and+ are repeatable social, cultural, and material possesses crystallized into mechanisms. It is this process of crystallization that makes them historically interesting (Sterne 2003, 7).” So what he is arguing is

that we have to study technologies in their attachment with the human practices, environment and conventions. As mentioned before, the ambition of this essay is not to give a complete historical overview of all the practices of sound reproduction and distribution which occurred during the twentieth century. Instead, I want to find and arrange the changes that occurred throughout the history of sound reproduction and distribution. Therefore I will investigate the most important occurrences, practices, and cultures of sound reproduction and distribution during what Frith calls the ‘pop stage’. In order to show the transformations between different historical contexts I will try to find recurring elements, the motives behind the transformations. These cultural constructs can be discovered in the stories or myths where deeply ingrained hopes, fears, desires of fantasies can be found. However, in order to analyze the formations in which I describe the important occurrences, practices and cultures I will divide the pop stage into two periods, the ‘analogue era’ and the ‘digital era’. It is important to understand that sound reproduction and distribution technologies came to be during the Industrialization. In this historical period the process of social and economic change transformed the agrarian society into a modernized industrial one (Meyer 2003, 64). Spanish, Portuguese and French empires collapsed and the American, British and German empires gained more power and encouraged development in science studies. The result was a century of innovations and analysis which contributed to the technological improvement of the Industrial Revolution. Suzan J. Douglas, a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan argues that:

Invention was celebrated in the nineteenth century as the handmaiden of cultural progress; inventors were exalted as the discoverers and interpreters of nature’s secrets (Douglas 1998, 37).” In this period of capitalism, rationalism and science people could spend more and inventors could finance their innovations. As a result, the zeitgeist, or the attitude of the age’ changes (Vries 2011). In this milieu there was a social, cultural, economic and political need for broadcasting and devices that could do so (Vries 2011). As Sterne argued, in order to find these material, technical, ideational, practical and environmental changes we have to analyze the history of sound recording and distribution.

3.1 The analogue era

The first sound recording devices stem from the late nineteenth century and were used as systematic instruments to represent and study sound waves (Norman 2004-2011). During this period the Persian Banu Musa brothers invented a mechanical driven musical instrument that they called the ‘Hydraulis.This device could play stored music, but could not play inconsistent sounds, for example the human voice, or record a live performance (Norman 2004-2011). The earliest known actual sound recording device was the phonoautograph invented by the French scientist Édouard-

Léon Scott de Martinville in 1857. It functioned complete mechanically and was able to record sound. However, it could not reproduce the recording (Morton 1998-2006). These devices seem of little scientific interest for this essay because they were unable to playback a record. Sterne argues however that these devises present a: Shift in understanding sound and practices of sound reproduction (Sterne 2003, 32).These experiments thus laid the foundations for further development in sound reproduction and distribution.

The Phonograph and Gramophone The American inventor, scientist and businessman Thomas Alva Edison was working on telephone equipment when in 1877 he invented a cylinder based etching device called the phonograph (Morton 1998-2006). This device could inscribe telephone messages on a wax cylinder. The grooves were etched by a stylus and the change in air pressure that was created by the original sound influenced the depth of these grooves (The history of the Edison Cylinder Phonograph sd). Later on, recordings of musical performances were made with use of the phonograph. The result was a recording that could be replayed by a needle which traced the groove made by the stylus and amplifying it through a horn (Ward 1977, 1421). Due to its innovation, the phonograph was an instant success. Edison offered future uses for the phonograph in the North American Review in June 1878: “The reproduction of music, phonographic books which will speak to blind people, clocks that should announce in articulate speech the time for going home, educational purposes such as preserving the explanations made by a teacher, and so on (The history of the Edison Cylinder Phonograph sd).” The phonograph did, however, not became a widely used recording and playback devise. The myth that surrounds the phonograph is that of the brittle sound medium, the wax cylinder, that seemed to be very fragile, worn out quickly and was not easy to store due to is actual size. The reproduction of the cylinders was also very difficult and therefore expensive (Early Sound Recording Devices 2002). As Foucault argues, we should examine the phonograph inside its historical context. In doing so I found that there are some rules and principles that make it specific. The phonograph was the first sound reproduction and distribution technology. It portrays the idea of using a sound recording technology to playback recordings commercially. The phonograph made ‘freedom of listening’ possible because for the first time in history sound could be reproduced. From this point in history, one did not physically have to be at a live performance in order to experience it. There had been a shift in musical space, from a public space to the recording studio and to the living room. Glenn Gould, a Canadian pianist and writer in musical journals, argues that there also has been a shift in musical time for we now can also experience the repeated, technology liberates the music work from its performance. He states that: “At the center of the technological debate, then, is a new kind of listener - a listener more participant in the musical experience *…+ the emergence of this mid-

Twentieth century phenomenon is the greatest achievement of the record industry (Gould 2004, 121).“ Sterne argues that this kind of mechanical reproduction make it possible for the masses to involve in culture and politics and from there arises mass culture and mass politics (Sterne 2003, 221). However, as history shows, the phonograph had a downside. The wax cylinders were very fragile, worn out quickly and were expensive to make. To place these archaeological discoveries in the discourse of sound reproduction and distributions technologies; this was the period when the desire for a durable sound medium came into existence and the ‘aim for fidelity’ begun. There was a need for a durable and robust sound medium that could be mass produced. In 1887 the German inventor Emile Berliner invented a new way of recording and playback sound with the creation of the gramophone. Instead of a groove that was etched on the outside of a cylinder, this devise imprinted the grooves on a flat disc (Morton 1998-2006). The myth goes that:

Berliner turned to the Duranoid Company, which made electrical parts out of a shellac compound. In 1895 Berliner sent Duranoid a nickel-plated stamper, and the company returned to him a shellac pressing that was in every way superior to the hard rubber pressings. By the middle of the year all Berliner discswere being made by Duranoid (Early Sound Recording Devices 2002).These gramophone records were much cheaper and easier to reproduce than the phonograph cylinders. Next to that, once a master record was produced, hundreds of copies could be made using a molding process (Library of Congress 2002). Due to these innovations records became less expensive and more people could afford them. This is important because sound reproduction technologies now became a part of home entertainment, they became part of our living rooms. With the arrival of the long playing record there was a new sound medium which was much more durable. Therefore the ‘aim for fidelity’ reached another level. The long playing record also signifies ‘freedom of listening’ from another perspective. Due to the physical form of the flat disk, one could now repeat a record, and even choose which part of the performance they wanted to listen to. This development seems to stem from a social-economic and cultural change in where the listener, or the ‘public’ becomes an important agent. Consumers could now choose which tracks to play and in which order, how loudly, which balance and with what tone (Frith 1996, 230). The actual shape of the long-playing record made it easy to store. Theodor Adorno argues that: “The form of the LP makes it possible for more than a few musically engaged people to build up a museum for themselves (Adorno 2002, 286).” I would argue that the actual shape of the long-playing record arrives from a desire for a storable and portable sound medium. It shows a ‘pursuit for portability’ which, as I will demonstrate in the following paragraphs, is an iterating component in the history of sound reproduction and distribution technologies.

Tape recording Until the end of the Second World War the phonograph and gramophone were the only sound reproducing devices owned by consumers. In 1928 the German Frithz Pfleumer invented reel-to-reel magnetic tape audio recording (Thomas 2011). Ralph D. Thomas, a passionate tape recorder collector and director of The National Association of Investigative Specialists, argues that: “Recording to wire was the only way to record audio unless you wanted to use Thomas Edison’s wax method which had a real problem in heat and in long term storage ability (Thomas 2011).“ He argues that due to problems with the tape wire, which was thin and therefore had the tendency to tangle up, it was not until 1947 that reel-to-reel magnetic tapes were marketed in the United states (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 182). The tape recorders and reel-to-reel tapes did not become a success, as Thomas argues. One reason for their failure was that there were a lot of companies that produced these systems. In those times one had to buy their recording machine and sound media from the same company in order to function properly (Thomas 2011). Therefore there was a need for a audible standard. In 1962 Philips invented and new ‘idiot proof’ tape recorder and the compact cassette, a small, robust and durable sound medium (Gronow and Saunio 1998). During the introduction of the compact cassette on the Internationale Funkaustellung, an international radio exhibition in Berlin, they presented the system as to become a world standard by sharing the license on their invention (Philips Museum Eindhoven sd). Gronow and Saunio argue that: “The Dutch company, Philips *…+ decided to market a new idiot-proof tape recorder, which combines the easy handling of a disc with the possibility offered by tape of making recordings oneself. Legend has it that the head of the company’s domestic appliance division, Coen Sonneveldt, only approved the prototype of the new recorder for production after smashing it on the floor and finding that it still worked (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 182).” When during the fifties the first commercial tape recorders were marketed, they were an instant hit (Morton 1998-2006). Gronow and Saunio argue that the Philips recorder and compact cassette were: “Cheap and easy to use, and they happened to appear at a time when European broadcasters were starting to increase the proportion of music in their programming (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 182).” The arrival of the cassette had a dramatic consequence and completely reformed the sound reproduction and distribution industry (Ooijen 2011). The process of creating record was complex and demanded professional abilities. The (illegal) copying of cassettes, however, was reasonably simple and could be done in a domestic environment (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 182). The effect was that copyright laws were tightened, to bring illegal cassette production, or ‘piracy’ under control (Gronow and Saunio 1998). The compact cassette ultimately gained an enormous popularity that preceded the long-playing record (Ooijen 2011). These devices seem to stem from a desire for a durable and portable sound carrier and reproduction machine. The invention of better transistors that demanded less electricity from the

batteries also contributed to the ´pursuit for portability´. In the years that followed, the sound

reproduction and distribution industry kept on innovating in durability, portability, fidelity and

automata like the boom boxand walkman, within a period of great economic growth (Morton 1998-2006). These efforts helped to construct the enormous record industry as we know it today

(Morton 1998-2006). From a historical context, the tape recorder and rewritable compact cassette,

embody a change in the location where sound got produced and reproduced: “A shift from the

factory to the home (Ooijen 2011).” Therefore these systems embody a change in the agency of the

consumer. Consumers could now be their own producers, they could make their own sound

reproductions and choose which music they want to record, in which order they want to construct a playlist and rewrite it without loss of sound quality (Ooijen 2011). Consumers gained more

interaction with reproducing and distribution sound which contributed to the ‘freedom of listening.’ I

would argue that this change arises from the deep desire to interact and have the feeling of ‘control’

with technology. As a consequence technology has become much more intertwined with our lives

and thus has become part of our social and cultural existence.

3.2 The digital era

In the sixties and seventies there was a rapid increase in record sales (Ooijen 2011). However, with

the arrival of a new decade: “The growth had turned to decline (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 187).” The

record industry blamed the low sale figures on the inventions of cheap cassette recorders and their

ability to make copies and record straight from the radio (Ooijen 2011). During the eighties new

digital recording methods were invented. I would argue that in the late twenties a technological

revolution occurred in where an information society flourished and a digital era begun. One important occurrence in the history of digital sound reproduction and distribution technologies was

the invention of the Compact Disc. This invention arises from a particular historical context which is

defined by Ken C. Pohlmann, a professor at the University of Miami and director of the Music

Engineering Program. He argues that in the early twentieth century there were some: “Important

inventions in the new field of electricity [and computing] (Pohlmann 1992).”

The Compact Disc The Compact Disc (CD) was introduced in 1982 by the Dutch company Philips which cooperated with

Sony and: “Was a result of the digital technology which advanced with the development of

computers (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 190).” Computers could process data as binary digits and

configure them electronically, increasing the amount of storage on a medium. Sound thus got

converted into digital form using a laser beam that cuts small holes onto the surface of a disk (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 190). The CD players used a revolutionary way of reading the surface of

the CD also using laser technology which did not wear out the disk (Mclean 2006). However, at first the CD did not become a widely used consumer technology due to the high costs of the CD storage medium and CD player devices (Hansman, Mulder and Verhoeff 1999, 224). But, by 1986 about 130 million compacts disks were being manufactured each year and the CD became the ‘new best thing’ in sound reproduction and distribution technologies (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 195). The arrival of this new technology eventually meant a boost for the record industry, because: “The new technology offered the industry a marvelous opportunity to raise prices, which had fallen below the limit of profitability (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 192).” Concurrently, the CD obtained another appliance when Recordable Compacts Discs, or CD-R, were invented (Gronow and Saunio 1998, 192). Although not heavily used by consumers due to high costs, they embody the need of ‘freedom of listening’, also seen in the analogue period. Dr. Andre J. Millard, a historian of American technology and director of the American Studies department of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, argues that: “The name [Compact Disc] is significant; it does more than describe the size of the disc; it indicates its family ties with the widely used compact cassette (Millard 2005, 351). The invention of the CD was an important occurrence in the history of sound reproduction and distribution technologies. Pohlmann argues that: “The compact disc system is both an evolutionary and revolutionary step in the history of audio technology (Pohlmann 1992).” Millard explains that: [The] most important, and the most desirable, achievement of the digital recording was that it finally realized the dream of a nondestructive system of reproduction (Millard 2005, 354).” Unlike the wax cylinder, long playing record or the tape recorder, digital recordings did not suffer from degradation over time (Ooijen 2011). This mend that due to laser technology, sound could now be preserved digitally without loss of quality. It brought the aim for fidelityto another level because from now on there was no: “Extraneous noise, no surface noise of scratches and pops, no tape hiss, and no background hum [and no degradation] (Millard 2005, 353).“ Next to that the CD also embodies a ongoing desire for ‘portability’; a durable sound medium that is both small in size and still could preserve a lot of data. The CD could store more data and therefore play longer than the long-playing record or cassette (Millard 2005, 353). There is an interesting myth that surrounds the CD While developing the CD the director of Sony decided that the actual minutes of data that could be placed on the CD had to be as long as the Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. The standard for the CD became twelve cm in diameter onto which all the forty-seven and twelve seconds of the symphony could be recorded (Mclean 2006). This myth shows that the storage size of the sound medium was defined by a popular musical performance. However, as with the wax cylinder, long playing record and compact cassette, data storage was still limited to the size of the sound medium.

Streaming music: Spotify Inventions in network technology resulted in the arrival of streaming media which can distribute data through computer networks, overcoming the problem of former technologies which had a limited storage capability. A popular contemporary streaming music service is Spotify. Spotify was founded by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon (Background Information sd). The application was launched in 2008 and is currently available in Sweden, the Netherlands, England, Finland, France and Norway. It is a proprietary software program what means that the actual software is licensed to protect copyrights of musicians (Background Information sd). The service rests on licensing deals with record labels like Sony, the Warner Music Group and Universal (What is Spotify 2011). Users can register for free, but will encounter advertisements between songs. There is also an option to subscribe to Spotify and listen to more than 10 million songs, ad-free (Knopper 2009). The service can also be used on mobile phones. In the interface, users can search for artists, whole albums, titles of song, but also labels and genres. The songs can be ordered in a playlist and shared with friends with other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Users can also purchase songs from the digital media delivery company 7Digital and import existing songs from ITunes or from local files (What is Spotify 2011). Spotify is a Distributed Network Management based Peer-to-peer network what means that it can deliver music in a live stream (Li, Hsieh and Hung 2010). The creators of Spotify argue that: “Spotify is a new way to listen to music. Any track you like, any time you like. Just search for it in Spotify, then play it *…+ Any artist, any album, any genre - all available instantly. With Spotify, there are no limits to the amount of music you could listen to (What is Spotify 2011). They go on to say: Think of Spotify as your new music collection. Your library. Only this time your collection is vast:

over 13 million tracks and counting. You can create as many playlists as you like from this collection - just drag and drop the tracks you want *…] because the music plays live, there’s no need to wait for downloads and no big dent in your hard drive. You can listen at any time, no matter where you are. Through your computer or your mobile phone (What is Spotify 2011).” Simon Frith, a doctor in sociology at the UC Berkeley specializes in popular music culture. He argues that here are some general conclusions about the social effects of the history of sound reproduction and distribution. First of all, as Frith argues, music is now everywhere and is not framed within time or space (Frith 1996, 236). He states that music has become entirely mobile: “It can follow us around the house, from living room to kitchen and bathroom, on journeys, as ‘in car entertainment’ and ‘the walkman effect,’ across national and political boundaries (Frith 1996, 236).Secondly, as Frith argues, there is a lot of music we can choose from. We can now repeat the same work, same event and the same performance endlessly (Frith 1996, 236). What firth argues: “Music has become the everyday (Frith 1996, 236).” Frith learns us that the musical experience has been individualized for it is no longer a social or collective affair (Frith 1996, 237). He argues that we can

now possess music as obsessively, as madly, as music once possessed us. So, we are collectors of sound recordings but can also decide for ourselves when and where to hear music, which music we want to hear, which sounds go together, and how these sounds will sound (Frith 1996, 237). Frith argues that: “Musical taste, in short, is now intimately tied into personal identity, we express ourselves through our deployment of other people’s music. And in this respect, music is more like clothes than any other art form not just in the sense of the significance of fashion, but also in the sense that the music we ‘wear’ is as much shaped by our own desires, our own purposes, our own bodies, as by intentions or bodies or desires of the people who first made it (Frith 1996, 237).” I argue that this individualization of musical experience arises from a deep desire to interact with technology and media. I would like to conceptualize ‘streaming music’ as some kind of ‘river’ where information ‘swims around’ like a school of fish. These fish obviously are of good quality and there are a lot of them. In order to catch them you just have to pick a devise of choice and start reeling them in. Therefore, music consumption has become fluid due to the desire for freedom of listening, aim for fidelity and desire for mobility. The description of the streaming music service Spotify contains a lot of promises. However, if we compare Spotify with its predecessors; the phonograph and its wax cylinder, the gramophone and the long-playing record, the tape recorder and the compact cassette and the CD player and the compact disc, there are similar mechanisms and processes. Streaming music technology originates from specific practices and relations due to material, economic, technical, ideational, practical and environmental change and therefore we have to analyze these sound reproduction and distribution technologies archaeologically (Sterne 2003). I would argue that the history of sound reproduction and distribution technologies affected the meaning that is still connected to contemporary conceptions. The formations of ‘freedom of listening,’ ‘aim for fidelity’, ‘pursuit for portability’, in the history of sound recording and distribution technologies are the same as in Spotify. These formations affected not just where, when and how we listen to music, but also what we perceive for we can now hear music in much more detail than ever before. The sound quality is better, and consumers experience more interaction with the sound recording and distribution technologies. New technologies like Spotify don’t just fall out of the sky but find their existence in social, cultural and material processes that are shaped into mechanisms and become part of our culture. These developments suit the fast paste of our industrialized and urbanized contemporary society in where new live streaming technologies like Spotify become socially situated (Frith 1996, 242).


This essay proposed a media-archaeological approach of the practices of sound reproduction and distribution technologies. In doing so this essay examined and debated the historic formations and contemporary conceptions of the central concepts that are involved in understanding sound recording and distribution technologies. I analyzed how sound reproduction and distribution technologies like the phonograph and the wax cylinder, gramophone and the long-playing record, tape recorder and the compact cassette, and the CD player and the compact disk came into existence and determined how the history of sound recording and distribution technologies affected the meaning that is still connected to contemporary conceptions. The concepts that were examined are ’sound’, ‘sound reproduction and distribution practices’ and ‘streaming music’. The aim of this essay was to create better understanding of the different practices that make up sound reproduction and distribution. As a method this analysis can be used to take a comparative look at former sound reproduction practices and contemporary ones in order to discover underlying processes that condition human behavior and make up cultural traditions. I argued that in order to fully understand contemporary sound recording and distribution practices like the streaming music service Spotify we have to examine its predecessors media-archaeologically. Chapter one presented the discourse on media-archaeology and explained why this methodology is useful for this essay. As Foucault argued we have to examine statements inside their historical context, or discursive formation, and therefore have to look at the rules and principles which define why it is specific. Huhtamo illustrated how the transformations between discursive formations work. He has a somewhat different perspective than Foucault in arguing that some things in media are innate and govern the way we think and write about media. Huhtamo argued that there are cultural motives that can be treated as ‘topoi,’ the formulas that mould our conceptions and thus make up cultural traditions. Lister et al have a similar perspective as Huhtamo, but give an extra explanation for the existence of these recurring elements in arguing there are ingrained ways in which we think, talk and write about new image and communication technologies. De Vries argued that these hopes, desires, fears or fantasies can be found in the myths of clichés described in literature. An explanation for the appearance of these myths and clichés on new media, is provided by Mosco who states that they offer an entrance to another reality; stories that can lift us out of the regularity in our lives. In order to discover the effect of a medium we have to analyze these stories which can be found in historical archives. Chapter two presented an introduction to the concept of sound and explained that this essay investigates the ‘musical sound’ as commodity inside the ‘pop stage’ of the twentieth century. As Frith argued this is the stage where music becomes recorded and stored on phonogram, disc or tape

and retrieved mechanically, digitally of electronically, changing the material experience of music. Chapter three defined and arranged the changes that occurred throughout the history of sound reproduction and distribution. I investigated some important occurrences, practices and cultures of sound reproduction and distribution during the twentieth century. In order to analyze the formations I assorted the pop stage in the ‘analogue era’ and ‘digital era’. The result of the media-archaeological approach to sound reproduction and distribution is the discovery of formations that seem to have similarities, regardless of the historical period in which they occurred. There is a specific system in which sound recording and distribution technologies occur. This system is built on myths that arise culturally. In these myths or clichés, which describe important occurrences, practices and cultures, I found comparable hopes, needs and desires that form ‘topoi’ which make up cultural traditions like sound reproduction and distribution. The formations that surround the phonograph and the wax cylinder, gramophone and the long-playing record, tape recorder and compact cassette, CD player and compact disc and the streaming music service Spotify are identical. These structures arise from recurring elements which portray deeply ingrained desires for ‘freedom of listening’, ‘aim for fidelity’ and the ‘pursuit for portability’. Consumers want to be free to listen to what they what, at anytime and anywhere. Therefore an affordable, durable, robust and small sound medium on which sound could be preserved was needed. Next to that, consumers demanded playback without loss of quality. Evidently, the need for the creation of automata follows a similar trajectory for they also had to be easy to use, durable, robust, and small in order to be mobile. As argued, there are underlying structures in the history of sound reproduction and distribution that are the same as in Spotify. These formations affect the meaning that is still connected to contemporary conceptions of sound reproduction and distribution technologies. Technologies thus are social, cultural and material processes that are shaped into mechanisms and therefore we have to examine contemporary sound reproduction and distribution technologies archaeologically in order to fully understand their meaning.


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Image Source

Cover page image source: From ‘I Heart Noise’. http://ihrtn.com/audio-mp3s/213286ear-with-sound- wave-posters/