Other Globes: Past and Peripheral Imaginations of the Global

Other Globes: Past and Peripheral Imaginations of the Global

The Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies is hosting a special conference entitled Other Globes: Past and Peripheral Imaginations of the Global.

University of Amsterdam
4-5 July 2017


Here’s the abstract of my talk:

Globalization in cylinders: Auditioning the early global acoustic epistemology

Globalization is often constituted within an ocularcentric epistemology: cartographic representations and the reflexive understandings of spherical cosmic bodies. Cultural globalization, on the other hand, was understood through collective reading, argues Benedict Anderson, when the world was imagined as an inter-national community. However, how was globalization heard? How was globalization understood through listening beyond the musicological framework of European enlightenment? This paper will analyze early sound recording media from the Berlin Phonograph Archive and the Smithsonian Folkways as sonic archival corpus. This research inquires that if our translocal understandings of globalization transpired through the technologies that allowed their legibilities and through the mediating senses (eyes and ears) which are the bases of their ontologies, how did the emergence of sound recording technology propose early global acoustic epistemology?

With the popularization and portability of the phonograph and gramophone in the early 20th century, European colonialists recorded musical and non-musical sound practices among the natives and tribal groups in the colonies. The recordings on wax and tin cylinders can be analyzed in two ways in their contexts within the early globalization of knowledge practices in the late 19th and early 20th century. On the one hand, they served as the basis for sonic understandings in the anthropological study of the colonial subjects, which formed early acoustic theories of race as a modernist category. On the other hand, they were sold commercially as ‘exotic’ musical recordings. Through these new technologies, musical practices that were un-encodable through European music notation bypassed the older technology of transcription, and could easily be re-played for ethno-musicological studies. Such cross-cultural ‘encounters’ of sound practices shifted the epistemology of music from a metaphorical system of sound organization towards the varieties of culturally-specific understandings and constitutions of sonic knowledges and practices.