Schamun: Two Resonance Experiments (Session 7)

Two Resonance Experiments

In 1796 Samuel Thomas Soemmerring try to discover the anatomic place of the organ of the soul. His ideas were summarized in his writing “Über das Organ der Seele” (About the Organ of the Soul) including a letter he received from Kant. Soemmerring found the place of the soul in the brain liquid of cerebral cavities and developed a theory of the interaction between the nerve endings and the organ of soul through resonance. His theory based of an analogy in the acoustic fields: Chladni’s figure of sound bodies (Klangfiguren).

Examples of Chladni's

Chladni`s Klangfigurenbilder

Chladni shows the ability of acoustic resonance of sound bodies not only with sands on discs (Klanfiguren) but also with sound bells in a water bath with the effect of wave formations. Soemmerring used the metaphor of an acoustic phenomenon to materialize the soul and its place. This thinking figure led him to his next invention: the first electronic Telegraph – a predecessor of the Telephon and Telharmonium – an electronic organ with transmitting an electrical signal over wires.


Soemmerrings Telegraph


Details of Soemmerrings Telegraph

This electric Telegraph functions like the thinking model of communication between body and soul. One and a half centuries before Leonhard Euler saw the soul as camera obscura inside the body – he wrote in mails for a German princess (1769)[1]. But next to the thinking model about the eye there was an idea regarding acoustical phenomenons and their relevance concerning aesthetics in perception. This shows how thinking figures from different knowledge orders (Wissensordnungen) broadcast to different fields of knowledge could be a basis for new inventions. In Soemmerrings case it is the invention for the basis of electronic broadcast of information’s through a metaphorical description of the broadcast from neurological process to a mental process.[2] Possibly this acoustical cerebral model of the 18th century wasn´t a coincidence because at the same time theories of perception and sensory physiology were more and more considered regarding aesthetics.


Another correlation between technique and poetic thinking combined with a theory in perception trough science gives the essay of Rainer Maria Rilke Ur-Geräusch written more than one century later in 1919. It contains of two parts. The first is about an experiment inspired by the invention of the phonograph, the second is about the five-finger-hand (Die fünffingrige Hand) of the artist. Rilke’s proposal for an experiment in the first part is to scan the zigzagging coronal suture of a human skull with the technique of a gramophone and to create a sound with it. As a boy at school he was once confronted with a simple version of a phonographic apparatus. The energy of speaking noise was passed to a needle (a bristle from a brush) that transferred his acoustic resonance on a turning surface and left a trace on the wax cylinder. A line produced in this way was read by a reading apparatus, creating its own noise.

Rilke was fascinated that sound could be preserved through engraving: “Man stand gewissermaßen einer neuen Stelle der Wirklichkeit gegenüber.” The fascination belongs to the technical transition of the spoken noise in a graphic sequence into a sound sequence. It is a translation effect. Years later the memory contained not the sound, but rather the graphical engraved sequence in the phonographic cylinder – the trace – die Spur.


Human skull with coronal suture

The occasion was his observation—with a sweeping view, or streifenden Blick—of a human skull, which he had from his anatomy studies, and its coronal suture. The similarity reminded him of the graphical trace in the wax barrel of the phonograph. But the sequence of the wax barrel as graphical translation of a sound in the coronal suture is not a result of a transfer. He alleged that contours were translatable and his experimental idea was then to put the needle into it. This procedure wouldn´t be a decoding because there was no noise or sound before. Thus Rilke’s interest lay not only in the transformation of the skull contour but in the general phenomenon of translating the visible into the audible.

Rilkes drawing for the essay Ur-Geräusche

Rilkes drawing for Ur-Geräusch

Rilke’s drawing about his reflections retains the phonograph apparatus, the coronal suture experiment as well as a circle of the sense. We can assume that he sees a coincidence. He was interested in the ontology of human perspectives of the inside and the outside world. The central topic in his essay is the translation of a sensual impression into another area of sense. In his circle of sense and experience ten different segments stand for senses like: face – the biggest segment, tactile sense, taste, scent, hearing. Between these, darkened segments stand for the unexperienceable:

“Indem ich mich so ausdrücke, habe ich schon die Zeichnung vor mir, deren ich mich, als eines angenehmen Behelfes, jedesmal bediente, so oft ähnliche Erwägungen sich aufdrängten. Stellt man sich das gesamte Erfahrungsbereich der Welt, auch seine uns übertreffenden Gebiete, in einem vollen Kreise dar, so wird es sofort augenscheinlich, um wieviel größer die schwarzen Sektoren sind, die das uns Unerfahrbare bezeichnen, gemessen an den ungleichen lichten Ausschnitten, die den Scheinwerfern der Sensualität entsprechen.”[3]

The five senses are the tool for the poet and other artists – and the interconnection and teamwork of each sense – die fünffingrige Hand – five finger hand – the tool of a poet that not only should use his eyes but all other senses. Rilke qualified the artistic use of sensual perception.

”Es möchte nicht voreilig sein, zu vermuten, daß der Künstler, der diese fünffingrige Hand seiner Sinne zu immer regerem und geistigerem Griffe entwickelt, am entscheidendsten an einer Erweiterung der einzelnen Sinngebiete arbeitet … .”[4]

[1] Leonhard Euler: Briefe an eine deutsche Prinzessin über verschiedene Gegenstände in der Physik und Philosophie. 1769

[2] Caroline Welsh: “Töne sind Tasten höherer Sayten in uns” Denkfiguren des Übergangs zwischen Körper und Seele In.: Gabriele Brandstetter, Gerhard Neumann: Romantische Wissenspoetik. 2004. p.76


[4] ibid.


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