NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

ca 1868 __ Work with deaf
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)
Comment : Bell's father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on elocution and speech, and both his mother and wife were deaf, profoundly influencing Bell's life's work (Bruce 1990, p. 419). His research on hearing and speech further led him to experiment with hearing devices which eventually culminated in Bell being awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876. In retrospect, Bell considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study (MacLeod 1999, p. 19). From his early years, Bell showed a sensitive nature and a talent for art, poetry and music that was encouraged by his mother. With no formal training, he mastered the piano and became the family's pianist (Gray 2006, p. 8). Despite being normally quiet and introspective, he reveled in mimicry and "voice tricks" akin to ventriloquism that continually entertained family guests during their occasional visits (Gray 2006, p. 8). Bell was also deeply affected by his mother's gradual deafness, (she began to lose her hearing when he was 12) and learned a manual finger language so he could sit at her side and tap out silently the conversations swirling around the family parlour Gray 2006, p. 9). He also developed a technique of speaking in clear, modulated tones directly into his mother's forehead wherein she would hear him with reasonable clarity (Mackay 1997, p. 25). Bell's preoccupation with his mother's deafness led him to study acoustics. His family was long associated with the teaching of elocution: his grandfather, Alexander Bell, in London, his uncle in Dublin, and his father, in Edinburgh, were all elocutionists. His father published a variety of works on the subject, several of which are still well known, especially his « The Standard Elocutionist » (1860) (Gray 2006, p. 8), which appeared in Edinburgh in 1868. « The Standard Elocutionist » appeared in 1868 British editions and sold over a quarter of a million copies in the United States alone. In this treatise, his father explains his methods of how to instruct deaf-mutes (as they were then known) to articulate words and read other people's lip movements to decipher meaning. Aleck's father taught him and his brothers not only to write Visible Speech but also to identify any symbol and its accompanying sound (Petrie 1975, p. 7). Aleck became so proficient that he became a part of his father's public demonstrations and astounded audiences with his abilities in deciphering Latin, Gaelic and even Sanskrit symbols (Petrie 1975, p. 7). Bell's father encouraged Aleck's interest in speech and, in 1863, took his sons to see a unique automaton, developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone based on the earlier work of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen (Groundwater 2005, p. 25). The rudimentary "mechanical man" simulated a human voice. Aleck was fascinated by the machine and after he obtained a copy of von Kempelen's book, published in German, and had laboriously translated it, he and his older brother Melville built their own automaton head. Their father, highly interested in their project, offered to pay for any supplies and spurred the boys on with the enticement of a "big prize" if they were successful (Groundwater 2005, p. 25). While his brother constructed the throat and larynx, Aleck tackled the more difficult task of recreating a realistic skull. His efforts resulted in a remarkably lifelike head that could "speak", albeit only a few words. The boys would carefully adjust the "lips" and when a bellows forced air through the windpipe, a very recognizable "Mama" ensued, to the delight of neighbors who came to see the Bell invention (Petrie 1975, pp. 7–9). Intrigued by the results of the automaton, Bell continued to experiment with a live subject, the family's Skye Terrier, "Trouve" (Petrie 1975, p. 9). After he taught it to growl continuously, Aleck would reach into its mouth and manipulate the dog's lips and vocal cords to produce a crude-sounding "Ow ah oo ga ma ma." With little convincing, visitors believed his dog could articulate "How are you grandma?" More indicative of his playful nature, his experiments convinced onlookers that they saw a "talking dog." (Groundwater 2005, p. 30). However, these initial forays into experimentation with sound led Bell to undertake his first serious work on the transmission of sound, using tuning forks to explore resonance. At the age of 19, he wrote a report on his work and sent it to philologist Alexander Ellis, a colleague of his father (who would later be portrayed as Professor Henry Higgins in « Pygmalion ») (Groundwater 2005, p. 30). Ellis immediately wrote back indicating that the experiments were similar to existing work in Germany. Dismayed to find that groundbreaking work had already been undertaken by Hermann von Helmholtz who had conveyed vowel sounds by means of a similar tuning fork "contraption", he pored over the German scientist's book, « Sensations of Tone ». Working from his own errant mistranslation of the original German edition, Aleck fortuitously then made a deduction that would be the underpinning of all his future work on transmitting sound, reporting: « Without knowing much about the subject, it seemed to me that if vowel sounds could be produced by electrical means so could consonants, so could articulate speech », and also later remarking: « I thought that Helmhotz had done it ... and that my failure was due only to my ignorance of electricity. It was a valuable blunder ... If I had been able to read German in those days, I might never have commenced my experiments! » (MacKenzie 2003, p. 41 ; Groundwater 2005, p. 31). In 1865, when the Bell family moved to London, Bell returned to Weston House as an assistant master and, in his spare hours, continued experiments on sound using a minimum of laboratory equipment. Bell concentrated on experimenting with electricity to convey sound and later installed a telegraph wire from his room in Somerset College to that of a friend (Bruce 1990, p. 45). Throughout late 1867, his health faltered mainly through exhaustion. His younger brother, Edward "Ted," was similarly bed-ridden, suffering from tuberculosis. While Bell recovered (by then referring to himself in correspondence as "A.G. Bell") and served the next year as an instructor at Somerset College, Bath, Somerset, England, his brother's condition deteriorated. Edward would never recover. Upon his brother's death, Bell returned home in 1867. His older brother Melville had married and moved out. With aspirations to obtain a degree at the University College London, Bell considered his next years as preparation for the degree examinations, devoting his spare time at his family's residence to studying. Helping his father in Visible Speech demonstrations and lectures brought Bell to Susanna E. Hull's private school for the deaf in South Kensington, London. His first two pupils were "deaf mute" girls who made remarkable progress under his tutelage. While his older brother seemed to achieve success on many fronts including opening his own elocution school, applying for a patent on an invention, and starting a family, Bell continued as a teacher. However, in May 1870, Melville died from complications due to tuberculosis, causing a family crisis. His father had also suffered a debilitating illness earlier in life and had been restored to health by a convalescence in Newfoundland. Bell's parents embarked upon a long-planned move when they realized that their remaining son was also sickly. Acting decisively, Alexander Melville Bell asked Bell to arrange for the sale of all the family property, conclude all of his brother's affairs (Bell took over his last student, curing a pronounced lisp), and join his father and mother in setting out for the "New World". Reluctantly, Bell also had to conclude a relationship with Marie Eccleston, who, he had surmised, was not prepared to leave England with him. Subsequently, his father was invited by Sarah Fuller, principal of the Boston School for Deaf Mutes (which continues today as the public Horace Mann School for the Deaf), in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, to introduce the Visible Speech System by providing training for Fuller's instructors, but he declined the post, in favor of his son. Traveling to Boston in April 1871, Bell proved successful in training the school's instructors. He was subsequently asked to repeat the program at the American Asylum for Deaf-mutes in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts. Returning home to Brantford after six months abroad, Bell continued his experiments with his "harmonic telegraph" (« Alexander Graham Bell »1979, p. 8). The basic concept behind his device was that messages could be sent through a single wire if each message was transmitted at a different pitch, but work on both the transmitter and receiver was needed (Groundwater 2005, p. 39). Unsure of his future, he first contemplated returning to London to complete his studies, but decided to return to Boston as a teacher. His father helped him set up his private practice by contacting Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the president of the Clarke School for the Deaf for a recommendation. Teaching his father's system, in October 1872 Alexander Bell opened his "School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech" in Boston, which attracted a large number of deaf pupils with his first class numbering 30 students (Petrel 1975, p. 15 ; Town 1988, pp. 12–13). While he was working as a private tutor, one of his most famous pupils was Helen Keller, who came to him as a young child unable to see, hear, or speak. She was later to say that Bell dedicated his life to the penetration of that "inhuman silence which separates and estranges." (Petrie 1975, p. 17). Several influential people of the time, including Bell, viewed deafness as something that ought to be eradicated, and also believed that with resources and effort they could teach the deaf to speak and avoid the use of sign language, thus enabling their integration within the wider society from which many were often being excluded (Miller and Branson 2002, pp. 30–31, 152–153). However in several schools children were mistreated, for example by having their hands tied behind their backs so they could not communicate by signing.the only language they knew.and were therefore forced to attempt oral communication. Due to his efforts to suppress the teaching of sign language Bell is often viewed negatively by those embracing Deaf culture. In the following year, Bell became professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory. During this period, he alternated between Boston and Brantford, spending summers in his Canadian home. At Boston University, Bell was "swept up" by the excitement engendered by the many scientists and inventors residing in the city. He continued his research in sound and endeavored to find a way to transmit musical notes and articulate speech, but although absorbed by his experiments, he found it difficult to devote enough time to experimentation. While days and evenings were occupied by his teaching and private classes, Bell began to stay awake late into the night, running experiment after experiment in rented facilities at his boarding house. Keeping up "night owl" hours, he worried that his work would be discovered and took great pains to lock up his notebooks and laboratory equipment. Bell had a specially made table where he could place his notes and equipment inside a locking cover (Town 1988, p. 15). Worse still, his health deteriorated as he suffered severe headaches. Returning to Boston in fall 1873, Bell made a fateful decision to concentrate on his experiments in sound. Deciding to give up his lucrative private Boston practice, Bell only retained two students, six-year old "Georgie" Sanders, deaf from birth and 15-year old Mabel Hubbard. Each pupil would serve to play an important role in the next developments. George's father, Thomas Sanders, a wealthy businessman, offered Bell a place to stay at nearby Salem with Georgie's grandmother, complete with a room to "experiment". Although the offer was made by George's mother and followed the year-long arrangement in 1872 where her son and his nurse had moved to quarters next to Bell's boarding house, it was clear that Mr. Sanders was backing the proposal. The arrangement was for teacher and student to continue their work together with free room and board thrown in. Mabel was a bright, attractive girl who was ten years his junior but became the object of Bell's affection. Losing her hearing after a near-fatal bout of scarlet fever close to her fifth birthday, (Toward 1984, p. 1 ; Eber 1991, p. 43). she had learned to read lips but her father, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Bell's benefactor and personal friend, wanted her to work directly with her teacher (Dunn 1990, p. 20). (Compiled for various sources, Wikipedia)
French comment : La mère et la femme d'Alexander Bell étaient sourdes, ce qui a sans nul doute encouragé Bell à consacrer sa vie à apprendre à parler aux sourds. Il épouse Mabel Gardiner Hubbard (1857-1923), la fille de son mécène Gardiner Greene Hubbard (premier président de la National Geographic Society), sourde à la suite d'une scarlatine, et élève de Graham Bell. Le couple aura quatre enfants. Il était professeur de diction à l'université de Boston et un spécialiste de l'élocution, on dirait aujourd'hui phonologue ou phoniatre. Le père, le grand-père et le frère de Bell se sont joints à son travail sur l'élocution et la parole. Ses recherches sur l'audition et la parole l'ont conduit à construire des appareils auditifs, dont le couronnement aurait été le premier brevet pour un téléphone en 1876. Bell considéra par la suite son invention la plus connue comme une intrusion dans son travail de scientifique et refusa d'avoir un téléphone dans son laboratoire. Bell montra également très jeune un vif intérêt, et un talent, pour l'art, la poésie et la musique, intérêts encouragés par sa mère. Il apprit le piano sans professeur ni manuel, et devint le pianiste familial. Malgré le fait qu'il était d'un naturel calme et introspectif, il faisait couramment des "blagues vocales" et de la ventriloquie pour divertir la famille. Bell fut très affecté par la surdité graduelle de sa mère (elle commença à perdre l'audition quand Bell avait 12 ans) et apprit un petit manuel de langage des signes. Ainsi, il pouvait s'asseoir à côté d'elle et converser silencieusement dans le salon familial. Il développa également une technique de parler par des sons clairs et modulés directement sur le front de sa mère, ce qui lui permettait d'entendre son fils relativement clairement. La préoccupation de Bell au sujet de la surdité de sa mère, le conduisit à étudier l'acoustique. Le père de Bell encouragea l'intérêt de son fils pour la parole et, en 1863, l'emmena voir un automate développé par Sir Charles Wheatstone. Cet automate était basé sur les précédents travaux de Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen. "L'homme mécanique", très rudimentaire, simulait une voix humaine. Alexandre fut fasciné par cette machine. Il obtint une copie de l'ouvrage de von Kempelen (en allemand) et la traduit péniblement. Il construisit alors avec son frère Melville leur propre automate (une tête). Leur père, très intéressé par ce projet, leur paya toutes les fournitures et pour les encourager, leur promit un "prix" s'ils réussissaient ce projet. Alors que son frère construisait la gorge et le larynx, Alexandre surmonta la difficile tâche de recréer un crâne réaliste. Ces efforts furent récompensés car il créa une tête aussi vraie que nature, capable de prononcer seulement quelques mots. Les garçons ajustèrent précautionneusement les "lèvres" et quand un soufflet d'air forcé passa à travers la trachée, un très reconnaissable "maman" se fit entendre, au plus grand plaisir des voisins qui vinrent voir l'invention du fils Bell. Intrigué par les résultats de cet automate, Bell continua ses expériences sur un sujet vivant, le Skye Terrier de la famille "Trouve". Après qu'il lui appris à faire des grognements continus, Alexandre manipula les lèvres et les cordes vocales de son chien pour produire un son brut "Ow ah oo ga ma ma". Avec un peu de volonté, les visiteurs pouvaient croire que le chien articulait "How are you grandma?" (« Comment allez-vous grand-mère ? »). Bell était assez joueur et ses expériences ont convaincu plus d'un visiteur d'avoir affaire à un chien parlant. Quoi qu'il en soit, ces premières expériences avec les sons encouragèrent Bell à entreprendre ses premiers travaux sérieux sur le son en utilisant une fourchette modifiée pour étudier la résonance. À l'âge de 19 ans, il écrivit un rapport sur son travail et l'envoya au philologue Alexander Ellis, un collègue de son père qui sera plus tard décrit comme le professeur Henry Higgins dans « Pygmalion ». Ellis lui répondit immédiatement lui expliquant que ses travaux étaient similaires à ceux existant en Allemagne. Consterné d'apprendre que le travail exploratoire avait déjà été entrepris par Hermann von Helmholtz qui avait transporté des voyelles avec une fourchette modifiée semblable à la sienne, il étudia de manière approfondie le livre du scientifique allemand (« Sensations of Tone »). Travaillant sur sa propre mauvaise traduction de l'édition originale allemande, Alexandre fit fortuitement la déduction qui fut la ligne directrice de tous ses futurs travaux sur la transmission du son, reportant : "Sans en connaître beaucoup sur le sujet, il me semblait que si les voyelles pouvaient être produites par de l'électricité, les consonnes pourraient également l'être, et ainsi il serait possible de reproduire la parole", et il remarqua aussi plus tard : "Je pensais qu'Helmholtz l'avait fait ... et que mon échec était seulement dû à ma méconnaissance de l'électricité. Ce fut une erreur constructive ... Si j'avais été capable de lire l'allemand en ce temps-là, je n'aurais sans doute jamais commencé mes expériences". (Compiled from various sources, Wikipedia)
Source : Bruce, Robert V. (1990). "Bell: Alexander Bell and the Conquest of Solitude". Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Source : Dunn, Andrew (1990). "Alexander Graham Bell", (Pioneers of Science series). East Sussex, UK: Wayland (Publishers) Limited.
Source : Eber, Dorothy Harley (1982). "Genius at Work: Images of Alexander Graham Bell". Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
Source : Gray, Charlotte (2006). "Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention". New York: Arcade Publishing.
Source : Groundwater, Jennifer (2005). "Alexander Graham Bell: The Spirit of Invention". Calgary: Altitude Publishing.
Source : Mackay, James (1997). "Sounds Out of Silence: A life of Alexander Graham Bell". Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Company.
Source : MacKenzie, Catherine (2003). "Alexander Graham Bell". Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing.
Source : MacLeod, Elizabeth (1999). "Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life". Toronto: Kids Can Press.
Source : Parker, Steve (1995). "Alexander Graham Bell and the Telephone", (Science Discoveries series). New York: Chelsea House Publishers.
Source : Petrie, A. Roy (1975). "Alexander Graham Bell". Don Mills, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited.

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