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Two book presentations and talks: Viktoria Tkaczyk with 'Thinking with Sound: A New Program in the Humanities and Sciences around 1900' and Fanny Gribenski with 'Tuning the World: The Rise of 440 Hertz in Music, Science, and Politics (1859-1955)'.
Event details of Two books in the history of sound and music studies
20 June 2023
15:30 -17:00
Doelenzaal C1.13

Viktoria Tkaczyk, Humboldt University, Berlin

Presentation of Thinking with Sound: A New Program in the Humanities and Sciences around 1900 (University of Chicago Press, 2023)

In this talk, I will give some brief insights into my recently published book, Thinking with Sound, which historicizes the currently expanding interdisciplinary field of auditory neuroscience and shows how the identification of the auditory cortex in neuroanatomy in the 1860s also, and already, inspired various disciplines to develop new theories and practices of “thinking with sound.” Ferdinand de Saussure interpreted the “acoustic image” as the key to human language; Sigmund Freud approached the human psyche through the auditory unconscious; for Henri Bergson, imaginary sounds proved the independence of the mind from physical perception; Ernst Mach declared comparative listening to be the central method of experimental physics; Carl Stumpf started from culturally shaped conceptions of sound and used them for comparative cultural studies. In its various manifestations, the topos of “thinking with sound” thus bound together an academic landscape at the turn of the 20th century that split into increasingly specialized fields of research. These various disciplines in the humanities and natural sciences, in turn, literally exercised a disciplinary influence on human speech, hearing, and thought—supported by numerous new media technologies, but also closely linked to colonial, imperial, and national political programs.

Fanny Gribenski, New York University

Presentation of Tuning the World: The Rise of 440 Hertz in Music, Science, and Politics (1859-1955) (University of Chicago Press, 2023)

I will present my new book, Tuning the World, which traces the rocky path towards the creation of an international standard for musical pitch in 1939. In so doing, I will show what was at stake in producing such a point of reference, including crucial concerns over what music is, and what disciplines of the sciences and the humanities should play a role in defining its norms. Should a musical standard be based on mathematical theory, economic practicalities, the aesthetic character of different tones, or the historical connotations of different pitches? In turn, what knowledge was deemed relevant to help chose and justify the selection of a single frequency to tune the world’s music? In examining historical and contemporary controversies surrounding pitch, I will show how the standard served and continues to serve as a contested site where different actors mobilize different bodies of knowledge of sound and music to build and express their competing worldviews.