1908 __ Which is which ? — Sound fidelity and reproducibility
‣ Comment : The discourse of fidelity is most common and most developed in discussions of sound recording, as opposed to other forms of sound reproduction. This is likely because of the increased ease of careful listening and comparison made possible by recordings as well as by their mobility. Yet the centrality of recording to the discourse of fidelity should not be mistaken for a theoretical privileging of recording as such in my own account : my argument is that the problems described under the rubric “sound fidelity”. — some of the key questions that orbit around the concept of “reproducibility” itself. — apply equally, although in slightly varying ways, to the other kinds of sound reproduction. Although I will argue that hte logic of ‘original” and “copy” does not adequatly describe the process of sound reproduction, one cannot deny that questions of the relation between originals and copies have formed a central preoccupation of twentieth-century theories of communication and culture. Conventional accounts of sound fidelity often invite us to think of reproduced sound as a mediation of “live” sounds, such as face-to-face process. Within a philosophy of mediation, sound fidelity offers a kind of gold standard : it is the measure of sound-reproduction technologies’s prodcut against a fictitious external reality/ From this perspective, the technology enabling the reproduction of sound thus mediates because its conditions the possibility of reproduction. — rendering the relation as transparent, as if it were not there. Inasmuch as its mediation can be detected, there is a loss of fidelity or a “loss of being” between original and copy. In this philosophy of mediation, copies are debasements of the originals. Everywhere we turn in the search for true fidelity, the desire to capture the world and reproduce it “as it really is” yields a theory of correspondence between representation and that which is represented. While the locution “perfect fidelity” suggests that there is no loss of being between an original and its copy. — as do the Victor records ads [...] — today this sensibility has few philosophical adherents. The problem is commonly conceived in this fashion : reproduction, the technological transformation of an original into a copy, introduces a potential of real loss of being in the original sound. Eric Rothenbuhler and John Peters offer a meditation on recording as mediation in a fascinating essay entitled “Defining Phonography”. (Jonathan Sterne, pp. 217-218)
‣ Original excerpt : « Which is which ?. — You thin kyou can tell the difference between hearing grand-opera artists sing and hearing their beautiful voices on the “Victor”. But can you ? In the opera-house corridor scene in “The Pit” at Ye Liberty Theatre, Oakland, Cal., the famous quartet from Rigoletto was sung by Caruso, Abbot, Homer and Scotti on the “Victor”, and the delighted audience thought they were listening to the singers themselves. Every day at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, the grand-opera stars sing, accompanied by the hotel orchestra of sisteen pieces. The diners listen with rapt attention, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the singer. But is is a “Victor”. In the rotunds of Wanamaker’s famous Philadelphia store, the great pipe organ accompanied Melba on the “Victor”, and the people rushed from all directions to see the singer. Even in the “Victor” laboratory, employes often imagine they are lsitening to a singer making a record while they really hear the “Victor”. Why not hear the “Victor” for yourself ? Any “Victor” dealer will gladly play any “Victor Records” you want to hear. There is a “Victor” for every purse. — $40 to $300. — Victor Talking Machine Company, Camden, N.J., USA. » (Victor Talking Machine advertisement; cited by Jonathan Sterne, p. 217)
‣ Source : Sterne, Jonathan (2003), “The Audible Past - Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction”, Durham & London : Duke University Press, p. 217.
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