Globalization in Cylinders: Recording Asian Sounds on the European Stage, 1890-1910
Research Fellowship (2016-2017)
Funded by the International Research Center »Interweaving Performance Cultures«
In September 1900, Carl Stumpf, professor of psychology, recorded the guest performance of a Siamese music theatre group in Berlin on an Edison cylinder with the help of the physicist Otto Abraham. The following year, Stumpf also recorded the performance of Kawakami Otojiro and Sada Yacco, a visiting Japanese theatre troupe. The technology that allowed the acoustic recording of cross-cultural encounters of theatrical and musical performances on European stages would not only allow the documentation of sound data for the first time—these sound recordings would lead to the creation of the Berlin Phonogram Archive. The archiving of non-European musical practices and the ability to study them as sound media also unintentionally established the discipline of ethnomusicology.
In my research, I will reexamine these sound archival media as cross-cultural performative negotiations via the imaginings (or auditionings, to use a sonic metaphor) of early twentieth-century European audiences concerning the Asian landscape of music and theatre. I want to reevaluate how the ‘technological’ shift of sound recording from symbolic European music notation system (often inadequate in transcribing non-European musical practice) to replayable analog sound data of music from other cultures was crucial to the aesthetic development of a global musical and theatrical modernism. If we are to understand the early intercultural aesthetic processes that resulted in the early replayable mediatization of theatrical and musical encounters, we have to foreground their epistemological shift from a cross-cultural music/dramatic semantic engagement to an inter-medial discourse; from dramatic/musical hermeneutics to sound media/performance analysis.