Tag Archives: Blog 1

Adam Shelley Blog #1 Edison & Katz

19 Apr

Thomas Edison writes: “The main utility of the phonograph, however, being for the purpose of letter-writing and other forms of dictation, the design is made with a view to its utility for that purpose” (Edison 531). Aside from the modern conception of the phonograph as being primarily an invention with the intention of recording music for entertainment, Edison concerned himself instead with the conceptualization of a new “utility” as prosthesis for humankind’s forms of documentation. His idea was grounded in the belief that it was better for a machine to transcribe automatically versus manual human note-taking in order to improve methods of dictation, and letter-writing.

The overall benefits of the phonograph is that it had the ability to omit human error, exhaustion and fatigue, as well as to greatly increase the amount of information to be had upon a medium compared to other information storage devices: “the capacity of each sheet of foil, upon which the record is had, in the neighborhood of 40,000 words” (531). On top of that, the phonograph’s ability to record “dictation may be as rapid as the thoughts can be formed, or the lips utter them” proved it to be a much more advanced recording system than writing as well (532). The major downside was that the wax medium was restricted only by the quality and difficulty of production, yet not disadvantageous enough to discredit the entire unit: “the advantages of such an innovation upon the present slow, tedious, and costly methods are too numerous…while there are no disadvantages which will not disappear” (532). Whereas paper yields much less capacity in recording information, and requires the full attention of reading in order to access its content,  Edison states the phonograph allowed the individual to listen while working on “other matters…interjections, explanations, emphasis, exclamations, etc.,” which brings about an entirely new way to take notes and review them later. It is interesting to note that the phonograph allowed for a more immediate transcribing of information than writing, which requires slow, articulated manual writing, which can sometimes lose the idea during the construction of the sentence. The problem of writing, and fallible documentation, is overcome with the phonograph’s ability to make “a perfect record” (532). By perfect Edison means firsthand, or direct in the sense that the reproduction, or “record,” is pure and unadulterated in any sense from the original source, since the sound is recorded directly.

Edison is also concerned with the economics involved as he searched for higher quality materials in which to produce the cylinders that fitted onto the phonograph. His search sent companies on a technological race to find higher storage capacities and other forms and designs of better machines: “it is important that each sheet be given as great capacity as possible” (Edison 531). The attitude Edison held towards the advancement of technology reshaped how companies operated, searching for better materials, updates, and improvements “in order to reap the full benefit of an invention” (536). A modern parallel that comes to mind is Apple. In many ways Apple has inherited Edison’s vigor in self-improvement and utility of its products (though not always seeming much of an improvement as the previous one).

In Mark Katz’s Capturing Sound: How Technology Changed Music, he claims the phonograph brought with it an aspect of tangibility. For the first time in history people had physical renditions of captured sound in the medium of discs and cylinders: tangible objects. Katz describes record collecting, the obtainment of these new treasures as a sign of sophistication, like a wine cellar, but only it would be like “a well-stocked oratorical cellar,” where it would be that “in the future people would seek out cylinder recordings of the great speeches of the day, just as they might collect fine wines” (Katz 13). The fact that records captured sound, which is such an abstract sensory experience, elevated and produced an entirely new market and value for sound related fields. However, the main difference between wine collecting and record collecting was that records were comparably cheap and more accessible to wider amounts of people: “unlike wine collecting, record collecting was not exclusive province of the elite” (13). The aspect of collecting was equated to wine collecting because “in the early years, recordings were often said to ‘bottle up’ sound, with the phonograph serving to uncork the liquid inside” (13). This sort of mediation was tangible because people had a means to collect something that was previously an intangible thing, and it was unifying in the sense that it crossed socio-economic barriers and allowed many to experience the luxury of audio, namely that of sound/audio in an entirely new way.







Courtney Prather Blog 1

12 Apr

            In the excerpt from Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music, Mark Katz reflects on how the evolution of sound recording has affected the way in which listeners appreciate art. The technology provides new methods for listeners to access music in untainted, reproduced modes that allow listeners to develop more impassioned relationship with the music. Although the listeners are forming new heightened experiences of the music, is this widening the gap between performer and listener? Does technology substitute the experience of live performances with variant, more affordable, accessible experiences?

            Katz argues that the development of the record encouraged a more intimate relationship between listener and music because of its affordability and tangibility: “The inexpensive disc was hailed as one of the keys to helping America become a more “musical” nation in the first decades of the twentieth century.” (Katz 15) The affordability of the disc made it more accessible to the masses, providing that they did not have to pay high prices for concert performances and could receive a secondhand experience of the music. Although record listening is mediation between performer and listener, the listener could still develop a connection to the music in ways that were alternative to the previous, limited medium of concert performances.  This was primarily possible because of the record’s tangibility.

            The importance of the record’s tangibility was influential in that it became a physical representation of how the listener identified with music, and it became a valuable item that could be collected. With the new ability to collect a physical representation of music, the record-listener acquired a new sense of power that was not offered as readily before the phonograph. The listener now had the ability to carefully select the records and songs deemed most worthy to them: “Record collecting represents a relationship with music that helps us in some part small or large, to articulate and, indeed, shape who we are.” (Katz 15) Before records the listener was at the mercy of the performer at the live performance, forced to listen to whichever songs the performer chose to play. With the ability to collect records, the listener gained access to purchase and listen to the artists and songs they felt to be a reflection of personal identity, creating for the listener new personal associations with the presence of the physical record.

            Katz describes this when he claims, “…while recorded music is often decoupled from its origins in space and time, this “loss” begets a contextual promiscuity that allows music to accrue rich and unexpected new meanings.” (Katz 18) These new meanings are generally held in high regard to the listener, as they are the reflection of a deep rapport with music. Although the record is a secondary experience of the performed music, the recording allows the listener to experience the music in a newly acquired, personal way. “Alone with the phonograph, all the unpleasant externals are removed: the interpreter has been disposed of; the audience has been disposed of; the uncomfortable concert has been disposed of. You are alone with the composer and his music.” (Katz 21) In this description, the record does not become a diversion between music and performer, but rather the opposite. Through the recording the listener is not distracted by other sensory experiences, and is granted the most direct experience of the music without actually having a personal concert. The absence of the sensory distractions of the theater lets the listener absorb the clearest, untainted performance of the music. With this reading in mind, the medium of the record does not distance the listener from performer, but attaches the listener to the performer in a re-appropriated mode. 

            The record degrades, or at least minimizes the urgency to attend a concert. If a listener feels like listening to a performer, he/she may use the record as a substitute for the performance either temporarily or with preference to the live performance. The new relationships between listener and record may flourish in the absence of the physicality of the performer, creating further problems for performer’s to execute pleasurable (and memorable) shows. Because the music was available without any visual aid of what was creating it, “the removal of visual cues…separates body from sound, heightening the sense that the music comes not from humans but from heaven.” (Katz 27). With the removal of the physical performer and visual experience, the listener is able to construct personal imaginations and appreciation for the music based on the particulars of the event of listening to the record. These constructs are deeply personal, subjective experiences that gratify the listener, but leave the performers with numerous, diverse expectations formed based on each listener’s cherished accounts with the music.  Although the record creates obstacles for the performer, for the listener it “allows for the optimal presentation of music, enabling it to recapture some of the force and intensity…”(Katz 26).

            Various performers have acknowledged the benefit of being able to record music, however distrust for the record’s ability to replicate performances remains prevalent. “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art,” he maintains, “is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” (Katz 17) The record allows the repeatable song to be ingrained in the minds of listeners, despite its lack of authenticity as a technological reproduction of the work. But the absence of the technology stagnates the contextualized experience between art viewer and art. What if an art-viewer goes to an art museum having a general understanding of art and sees a work but does not recognize it or have any knowledge of the work? Does it make the work less valuable because the viewer has not developed the contextual relationship with it? Or is it the viewer’s fault for not having thoroughly researched? The latter seems to be a problematic question in that a recurring idea surrounding modern art is that it should be accessible to numerous art viewers and therefore enjoyable to a wider audience (e.g. the medium of the record).

            The determinant question: what is the optimal experience of art? For performers, the optimal experience of art is often the live performance as a unity between performer and listener. For listeners, the optimal experience may be the isolated experience of the music achieved in the sound studio and made accessible through the availability of the record. While the technology grows the experience of music shifts and the relationships between art and art viewers are altered. The disagreements surrounding the benefits and ailments of the evolution of the phonograph remain a problematic tension between technology and live performance of music.

Mediation & Culture

6 Apr

The technologies and institutions that allow messages to be communicated to humans define our media. The word “media” can refer to social networks, radio, newspaper, etc. Mediation is how the media affects and constructs the message that is being delivered to an audience. Through the process of mediation, our understanding of reality is shaped and structured. The way we communicate and interact with one another in our everyday culture is influenced through what we see and hear from the media.  What we see is mediated by what we hear and both senses assist in shaping our modern culture. The process of mediation occurs so often that we tend to forget the actual experience. We are absorbed in the media where the truth is often misconstrued; therefore one should always question it.

Is Technology Damaging Music, or are We?

6 Apr

Have you ever excitedly sat down to watch your favorite television show only to find that the sound was delayed? It can be quite frustrating to an individual to see the characters lips moving but not being able to hear what they’ve said until seconds later. This mismatch between sound and sight is can be quite appalling to an individual as it threatens their perception of the authenticity of the work.  We as consumers are obsessed with the idea of authenticity- we do not like anything fake or false.

Mark Katz dives further into this belief by writing, “We seem to have an instinctive expectation of a direct and visible connection between a sound and its source. When that connection is served…or when we are misled about the nature of that connection…we almost inevitably react often with surprise [or] with outrage” (26). To find out that our favorite singer has been lip-synching the entire time throughout a performance can be thought of as a betrayal. Like I stated earlier, we are consumed with the idea of originality and authenticity, thus aren’t we the reasons why most singers conform to lip-synching?

Mark Katz declares that with the development of technology, music is becoming more accessible and portable. We are able to now hear whatever music we would like when we want and how we want. For example, with the development of the iPods and CD’s, we can put our favorite song on repeat and hear it effortlessly as much as we want over and over again. What we hear repeatedly is a record-studio version of the song. A song that is flawless and edited remarkably to sound perfect to a listener. Yet, as we hear this edited version repeatedly, it begins to unconsciously affect our expectations. Thus, when we hear the singer live and they do not sound exactly like how they do on the recording, then we are rather disappointed and dissatisfied. For that reason, can’t one argue that this is perhaps why artists resort to the use of lip-synching? Isn’t our constant repeated listening of a song allowing us to have such high expectations of the singer that their live voice is simply not enough, leading them to consequently lip-synch as a way to sound exactly how they do so on the recording? Yet, we are betrayed by such an action, yet technology is leading these artists to resort to nothing else.

Katz is extremely correct in that technology is damaging music and its beauty, yet, aren’t our superficial standards and high expectations doing so as well? This is something that the general population should consider as well. 

Blog #1. Sight and Sound

6 Apr

Sight and Sound

            Katz explains the process of  how the emergence of sound recording technology dramatically made the value of sight in music to wither, but he also claims the importance of  visual performance. “Edison’s Realism Test” is one of the examples (Katz 23). Edison gives steps of directions to compensate the major shortcoming of phonograph, the lack of visual performance, by training listeners to imagine themselves as if they are in some concerts. His effort to revive the visuality in music may seem questionable to some people. Today, people enjoy having their own private time by listening to music with their own electronic device and headphones and assign their own contextual meanings to music depending on situations and emotions. However, before the emergence of phonograph, music was not solely interpreted by oneself, but it had formed its meaning through the communications between performers and audience.

When Phonograph was just introduced by Edison, people were excited by the novelty and the convenience, but some also expressed their anxiety for invisibility of the actual source of music, the musicians.   McGurk’s finding provide very intriguing evidence of how what we hear is influenced by what we see (Katz 25).  McGurk Effect reflects people’s tendency of determining what they hear by what they see. It would also apply to music apprecit ation. Without seeing the performance, it is very unlikely for listeners to recognized the emotional message that performers intended to transmit to them. Performers’ intense or gentle facial expression, gestures, and technical motions during the performance were important factors that enable audience to be absorbed to music and makes audience easy to understand the nuance too.

Performers also felt anxious about invisibility of audience. Although audience had caused fear and tension among performers, performers were able to express their sincerity and love of music toward the audience directly, but LP was a huge barrier to them to learn the impression of the listners after they were done performing. Some musicians said that they take inspiration from audience during their performance and said that they had enjoyed the claps and cheer when they finished performances (28). On the other hand, some good-looking singers took advantage of invisibility of performance through lip-synch and obtained huge popularity by releasing albums with someone else’s voice recorded (26). Invisibiliy of performance brought frustration to some artists and also provided a dishonest way to become famous and popular.

Recorded sound was a great source of music that enable people to enjoy unlimited service of music performance without actual musicians’ presence. However, lack of visuality brought anxiety to both audience and performer’s many aspects. Although people are now quite comfortable with invisibility of performances, I think, it was quite natural for many to felt anxious considering those inconvinient features that Katz pointed out.

-Hannah Kim

Storage Media

6 Apr

In Williams’ Keywords, he takes an in-depth look at the word “media,” through the etymological histories of the words “medium” and “mediation.” He initially describes how the word “medium” has been used for intervening and intermediate, which was possibly not the best word to use define “medium,” substance. While the thing that immediately comes to mind when thinking about the word “media” in the modern, colloquial sense is related to television, the mass media, news reports, broadcasts, and so forth rather than an intervening substance, but the definition does fit as those things are the medium through which audiences get their news.

He goes to discuss “mediation,” the verb form of the base word “medium,” and the sense in which “media” does not just transmit news but actively changes it. When thinking about this in relation to mass media the implications are immediately apparent: the ways in which any event are reported by a news outlet can change how those events are then transmitted to the audience. The relevance to things like the phonograph is not as apparent. CDs, vinyl records, and even books are also considered media, but can also specifically be referred to as “storage media” in that they act as intermediate substances between the original creator and the audience but through the means of recording and storing information. As Edison enthusiastically states in “The Phonograph and its Future,” the primary advantage is accuracy, what comes out to the audience will be more or less the same as what the original creator of the message put into it. If the whole point is the preservation of the message then how does storage media “mediate?”

To answer that question, it is worth taking a technological step back from Edison’s machine to physical writing. In literary study there is a focus on looking at both the form and the content of the message to get meaning out of a text. Things like word choice, syntax, punctuation and how those things are used become very important. The physically written words, the storage device, are part of how the message is relayed. While Edison touted the phonograph as being able to accurately relay the message as intended, there are still ways the message, whether it be music or a speech, is changed as a result of the media involved, the discussion in Katz’s Capturing Sound how of missing visual elements affect stored sound is an example of how even storage media can change the message.

-Jonathan Jiang


6 Apr

Medium is a word that can be interpreted in many ways. It functions not only as an agent but also as a tool to convey a certain meaning. In contrast to immediate it is interpreted as something skewed. Information is presented through a perspective that alters the original meaning to create another intent. This phenomenon is visible in the simple game of telephone. By the time the message gets to the end of the circle, the overall meaning of it is so completely different that it no longer retains the original intent. This is why the medium is so important. The medium of conveyance holds the power of the message. In order to convey the truth in something one must know and understand the instrument with which to create that message. A message can lose or retain its meaning in its composition and its conveyance. Consider the source is a rule that most people live by and in order to have any sort of credence or importance the medium of the message must coincide with the intent of the message. If all parts of an argument do not make sense together then the argument itself is lost completely. Immediate is word that describes information presented with least obscurity because it is the nature of this information to be raw and instantaneous. This is the form of authenticity that opens the argument: What is authenticity and what does it mean? In terms of immediacy authenticity can mean something that is original and created within the scope of immediate time. Outside of this definition authenticity can be adhering to the original form of the song.

This is where the borderlines of reality become blurred. How does one define authenticity? Is originality part of the equation or does simply following the rules make one authentic. This is a difficult topic to analyze because the perspective defines the meaning and this definition is an indication of how the medium of a message affects its overall meaning. Is creating something from pure scratch more authentic then pure regurgitation? The inherent definition of originality would argue to that effect. However, some argue that adhering to the original guidelines and rules of a particular action or tradition is a more solid demonstration of authenticity. Personally, I think that both must be taken into account. One must think of authenticity as maintaining the original intent of message as well as making the delivery of this message something to call personal. The medium of a message is important because people pay attention less to what they are hearing as they do to whom they hear it from. This is only a natural inclination. Information presented in a way that cannot be interpreted in a friendly an easy way is information that generally does not transfer into long-term memory. If a piece of information is too intimidating or difficult to remember, it will alienate its audience unless this information can be presented through a medium that levels the meaning of the message to the audience it intends to effect. Authenticity is a type of originality that must be adhered to and in the context of staying true to a particular sound or style, authenticity can and should be found in pure regurgitation. However, as it pertains to reality and realism, authenticity should be seen as something that is created solely from the soul. Authenticity itself should be a medium for originality as well as a medium to reproduce that originality in all of its glory.

In many ways the medium of the message is lost to the message itself. However, most people, without even realizing it, will avert their attention towards the medium without even recognizing the message. That is why the medium and the message must coincide with each other because if they don’t the original intent of the message is completely lost.