In his masterpiece of the Very Possibility of Sound Reproduction, Jonathan Sterne is already aware of the earlier studies concerning sound reproduction, but the fact that earlier studies didn’t entirely offer much more of a technical and historical possibility of sound reproduction, urged the author to make a distinction to understanding sound as a total entity with its very source which created a better connection with the cultural and social identity of the sound reproduction and human communication.

As there are distinguished irreducible differences between hearing and seeing that in social construction it implies the possible changes over space and time, the author refers to the idea of registering sounds as core of understanding and defining these differences in sound’s reproducibility. The fact that the human ear as a mechanic source for sound reproduction is based on the imitation of the mouth to the imitation of the ear through tympanic technologies depend on an abstraction of and from the middle ear as a mechanism for registering the existence of sound.

Starting with diaphragm, “The key element, the defining function, in these early versions of sound reproduction technologies”, the core value of the text is to demonstrate the importance of the tympanic machines through its cultural and historical construction of being able to inscribe sounds as to be understood in the invention of the phonautograph which later led to more technological implementation in the future of media. The author refers to Graham Bell and Clarence Blake a two distinctive figures in the field of sound reproduction as main contributors to the cultural construct of the sound inscription by using an actual human ear in the phonautograph machine as Blake, who had studied hearing and perception and taught Bell the workings of the human ear, suggested instead of using an artificial membrane in order to reach an identical approach to the human ear itself which could be understood as to change our perception of sound. That was Bell’s first aim of this experiment as to teach the deaf and mute how to speak which later translated to be a machine that can hear for them. A machine that can, not by amplifying hearing, inscribe sounds into visual renderings for the deaf by visualizing the vibrations that our sound creates.

In his two distinctive approaches, the phonautograph and the Manometric Flame devices, Bell relied on the idea that he could treat sounds as a representation in a physical visual record that in order to understand the conjunction and interconnectivity of the audible and the visible, it depended on the very understanding of the human ear as a technological mechanism. To put both understanding of mechanism in the reading and writing in comparison with the hearing and speaking, Bell argued in his experiments that sound could literally write itself in an objective visibility in a way that will overcome deafness as a human disability in a way that the eye can enjoy greater status of objectiveness than the ear does. In fact, “sound reproduction came to be represented not only as a solution to the physical fact of deafness or hardness of hearing, but more importantly to the social fact of unaided hearing. This objectiveness is learned through the ability to register and measure the effects of hearing as in sounds.

Technicalities aside, the author had that intellectual concern of the origin of the actual human ear that helped in establishing the phonautograph in conjunction with cultural and social concerns carried by the people in that time of reproducing sounds when corpses and bodies of the poor established a business of raw materials for medical knowledge.

This interconnection between technology development and social concerns of the poor helped shaping a taxonomical difficulties in the development of medicine and technology which relied on the class structure of nineteenth century American society. That to be understood, the forfeiture of the bodies of the poor in medical studies was no less important to the development of the ear phonautograph as one entity attached to the physical ear of the bodies of the poor that is inscribed in the very tympanic mechanism of sound reproduction.

Although both could be called automata, the difference in earlier sound production and later sound reproduction is that the former depended on producing sounds similar to human sounds by imitating human vocal organs and movements of the human body which thereby produce speech or music through an imitation of the process of speech or music-making while the latter, as in Diaphragm machines, depended on the imitation of the process of hearing on storing then reproducing tangible sounds. “The reproduction of the human voice is accomplished through the mechanical reconstruction of the human mouth. These two different technologies of sound reproduction are symptomatic of two entirely different practical understandings of sound and its reproduction.”

A response to “A Machine to Hear for them” On the Very Possibility of Sound Reproduction by Jonathan Sterne

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