Jonathan Sterne in the book The Audible Past accounted for the developments that informed the birth of sound reproduction technologies at the end of the nineteenth century. In this text, he focuses on the transformations which have altered the way listening is performed.
These new technologies of sound reproduction, apart from expanding the range of possible sound that would be proliferated, fostered new competences and sensibilities. Sterne links those to the emergence of what he calls Audile Technique. 1 p. 154]
As sound ceased to be necessarily entwined with a producing subject, new skills and modes of attending to sound entailed. These modes implied the ‘separation of hearing from the other senses’, the ‘connection between sound, listening and rationality’ (p. 154), the ‘focus on detail’ (p.157), the ‘reconstruction of acoustic space’ and the consolidation of a ‘private acoustic space’ (p.160). The disappearance of the subject as a necessary condition to which sound was attributed — until the nineteenth century the attempts to technically reproduce sound had been focused on the creation of automata — was at the core of what Sterne labels the tympanic paradigm. The focus of the technology moved towards the ear, prompting further transformations in the ways in which attention to sound developed later on.
Melissa van Drie on the birth of the Théâtrophone and the origin of new listening configurations
Brian Kane on Sterne’s Audile Techniques. Source: West Den Haag / Vimeo