Friedrich Kittler: Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

“Overtones are frequencies, that is, vibrations per second. And the grooves of Edison’s phonograph recorded nothing but vibrations. Intervals and chords, by contrast, were ratios, that is, fractions made up of integers. The length of a string (especially on a monochord) was subdivided, and the fractions, to which Pythagoras gave the proud name logoi, resulted in octaves, fifths, fourths, and so on. Such was the logic upon which was was founded everything that, in Old Europe, went by the name of music: first, there was a notation system that enabled the transcription of clear sounds separated from the world’s noise; and second, a harmony of the spheres that established that the ratios between planetary orbits (later human souls) equaled those between sounds.
The nineteenth century’s concept of frequency breaks with all this. The measure of length is replaced by time as an independent variable. It is a physical time removed from the meters and rhythms of music. It quantifies movements that are too fast for the human eye, ranging from 20 to 16,000 vibrations per second. The real takes the place of the symbolic. Certainly, references can also be established to link musical intervals and acoustic frequencies, but they only testify to the distance between two discourses. In frequency curves the simple proportions of Pythagorean music turn into irrational, that is, logaritmic, functions. Conversely, overtone series — which in frequency curves are simply integral multiples of vibration and the determining elements of each sound — soon explode the diatonic music system. That is the depth of the guld separating Old European alphabetism from mathematical-physical notation.”

46: “In the wake of Mondrian and the Bruitists (who wanted to introduce noise into literature and music), Maholy-Nagy already suggested in 1923 turning ‘the gramophone from an instrument of reproduction into a productive one, generating acoustic phenomena without any previous acoustic existence by scratching the necessary marks onto the record.'”

* Time Axis Manipulation (TAM)

“Of course Europe’s written music had already been able to move tones upward or downward, as the term ‘scale’ itself implies. But transposition doesn’t equal TAM. If the phonographic playback speed differs from its recording speed, there is a shift not only in clear sounds but in entire noise spectra. What is manipulated is the real rather than the symbolic.”

“Voices that start to migrate through frequency spectra and time axes do not simply continue old literary wordgame techniques such as palindromes or anagrams. This letter-bending had become possible only once the primary code, the alphabet itself, had taken effect. Time axis manipulation, however, affects the raw material of poetry, where manipulation had hitherto been impossible. Hegel had referred to ‘the sound’ as ‘a disappearing of being in the act of being’, subsequently celebrating it as a ‘saturated expression of the manifestation of inwardness’. What was impossible to store could not be manipulated. Ridding itself of its materiality or clothes, it disappeared and presented inwardness as a seal of authencity.”

“Whereas Morse signs are much too discrete and binary to be a symbolic code for radio waves, the continuous low frequencies of records are ideal for the amplitude and frequency modulations known as broadcasting.”

“The entertainment industry is, in any conceivable sense of the word, an abuse of army equipment. When Karlheinz Stockhausen was mixing his first electronic composition, Kontakte, in the Cologne studio of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk between February 1958 amd fall 1959, the pulse generator, indicating amplifier, band-pass filter, as well as the sine and square wave oscillators were made up of discarded U.S. Army equipment: an abuse that produced a distinctive sound.”

“Lennon, Hendrix, Barret och andra började spela in sina Gesamtkunstwerke genom att fullt ut använda sig av andra världskriget mediainnovationer”.

Fridrich Kittler: Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
Stanford University Press, 1999 (1986)

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