Resonating Pasts – Københavns Universitet

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ESSA2014: Mapping the Field > Documents > Resonating Pasts

Resonating Pasts: Sounding out Acoustic Archives
Anette Hoffmann, Britta Lange & Regina Sarreiter

The introduction of the phonograph (1877) triggered zealous enterprises of recording by folklorists, musicologists, linguists, anthropologists, missionaries, travelers and colonial officers. Voices of prominent people, of so-called natives, of musical performances, but also of animals and ghosts, both ‘at home’ and ‘abroad’, were recorded and stored in newly established sound archives and collections. From the growing field of sound studies, several scholars have engaged with the histories of audile technologies (Brady, Sterne, Kittler, Gitelmann), the establishment of comparative musicology (Ames, Bohlmann & Radano), endeavours of ethnographic recording (in the wider sense) (Hoffmann, Sacken), and the politics and poetics of the history of sound /voice recording more generally (Dolar, Felderer, Lange).

Yet the recordings themselves, the form and content of, for instance, the vast collections related to projects of imperial knowledge production have seen little scrutiny. Contrary to the scholarly engagement with colonial photography, the sound recordings of similar provenance have so far been neglected as sources in the humanities.

Our own work (Hoffmann, Lange, Sarreiter) has alerted us to the status of historical sound recordings as recalcitrant, acoustic presences in the colonial archive and the complicated positions of speaking these historical voice recordings entail. Acoustic documents from the past should not simply be treated as texts but listened to as complex, mediated ‘voice-objects’. They may reveal neglected aspects of sound studies, cultural studies, history and post-colonial studies, and may serve in curatorial approaches not as sonic illustrations but as documents in their own right and media specificity.

Our panel invites scholars who theoretically engage with historical sound documents, the histories of recording and collecting, the politics involved in the creation of sound archives, and the complexities of acousmatic voices as archival material. We also invite presenters who conceptually engage with sound recordings in museums and exhibitions and the challenges of curating and exhibiting historical recordings beyond the function of ambient sound.


Panel IV: Resonating Pasts: Sounding out Acoustic Archives I
Chairs: Anette Hoffmann and Britta Lange
Time: Friday 15-17

  • Hoffmann, Anette & Britta Lange:  Resonating Pasts: Sounding out Acoustic Archives
  • Warsame, Bodhari: An unintended legacy of Eric von Hornbostel’s phonograph recordings: the sound recordings of the Somali Völkerschau in Germany and the different story they tell
  • Biwa, Memory: Oral and embodied performances of Khoekhoegowab through the Damman archive


Panel X: Resonating Pasts: Sounding out Acoustic Archives II
Chair: Erik Granly Jensen
Time: Saturday 9-11

  • Bushidi, Cécile Feza: Staging, Recording, and Collecting Music and Dance in Kenya, 1955-1980
  • Müske, Johannes & Fanny Gutsche: Acoustic "Swissness" in the Archive. The History of the "Dür Collection" at Swiss Radio International and the Construction of Cultural Heritage
  • Sarreiter, Regina: How to Present Historical Sound Recordings in a Contemporary Art Exhibition