Loudspeaker listening fascinates me. Loudspeakers are everywhere and mediate every daily listening experience. However, a concrete theory of loudspeaker listening is lacking. In my Master thesis I conducted cultural historical/musicological research on the reinvention of loudspeaker experience after the Second World War. In this contribution, I present some sketches of my analysis of the relations between Siegert and Sloterdijk, as an attempt to relate Siegert to a deeper and more profound analysis of Stockhausen’s loudspeaker listener, offering a starting point to dissect the loudspeaker from a media historal and media archeological perspective.
Loudspeaker experience pops up when I rethink concert hall listening, while participating in the Concert 3.0 research project, and it recurs in aesthetic experiments with radio in the 1920s, by for instance, Brecht, Weill and Hindemith. However, for me, one of the best loudspeaker listening theorists is still Stockhausen. His writings, the constitution of loudspeaker experience in compositions like Gesang der Jünglinge, and, even better, in Kontakte (1958-1960) for music instruments and electronic sounds, his gigantic spherical ear at the Osaka World Expo of 1970, are all experiments that explore loudspeaker experience while at the same time formulating a theory and reinventing loudspeaker listening. In Kontakte Stockhausen drastically abandoned the Classical-Romantic notion of a listening experience guided by a narrative structure of beginning, middle and end. Instead, Stockhausen created a critical, conscious and participating experience. The listener was encouraged to take the initiative himself to tune in and out in his listening experience of the composition, which would induce a relationship with the composition on the basis of participation. The loudspeaker listener became conceptualized as a concrete and physical phenomenon, since his position was actively accounted for by trajectories of sound moving through four loudspeakers that were positioned in the concert hall space. The audience was positioned at the center of the performance space. Through this process, loudspeaker listening became a physical experience.
The loudspeaker in relation to our daily listening practices raises a variety of questions. Siegert’s media technical analysis of electricity offers an alternative perspective to one that approaches the loudspeaker as a finished, functioning piece of technology, or as an instrument for degenerating concert hall experience (Adorno). The loudspeaker can neither be reduced to a political apparatus, nor to a social apparatus that creates or fragments hearing collectives, or a ‘radio voice’. Instead, it will be interesting to depart from an analysis of the loudspeaker as an electrical phenomenon, and dissect it.
Siegert’s analysis of electricity and his conception of the organ of the soul, reminds me of some passages in Sloterdijk’s Sphären III: Schäume (2004). In these passages he accounts for the fact that things that were not supposed to be experienced by our human eyes, were magnified by instruments.
Vergrößerung: das ist (neben der Kartographie) die Erstschlagskapazität der Explikation, durch welche die bisher unsichtbare Welt unter Bildzwang gesetzt wird. Erst nach der auto-operativen Drehung gerät das neuere Wissen in die Position, in welcher ihm zum Phänomen wird, was in keiner Weise für die menschlichen Wahrnehmungsapparat bestimmt war, zumindest nicht nach dessen erstem Entwurf. (Sloterdijk: 83)
Magnifying instruments have offered us insights in new aspects of a previously hidden world. This implies a rather radical turn in how we encounter and experience phenomena in the world, what phenomena we exactly encounter and how we enter into relations with them. I see some parallels between this and Siegert’s accounts of Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes in relation to Ritter, which connects the works of Sloterdijk and Siegert to the loudspeaker and electricity. Loudspeakers magnify sounds that are already there and that have been recorded by the microphone. For this simple reason the loudspeaker is, more than a microphone, a prosthesis of the ear. As Sloterdijk explains:
Daher ist die Entfaltung des Prothesenbaus – Kernstück des Explikationsgeschehens – die Phänomenologie des wirklichen Geistes. Die Wiederholung des Lebens an anderer Stelle zeigt auf, wieviel vom Leben in seiner ersten Gestalt verstanden wurde. (Sloterdijk 2004: 317)
Also, from the beginning of the commercialization of sound technology, sound engineers focused in their research on the acoustic experience of sounds in order to develop and improve the loudspeakers. As Sloterdijk reasons: Das technische Machen ist wesenhaft ein Ersetzen oder Prothetisieren. (316) And the other way around: the design and construction of prostheses help us to understand ourselves, to explore ourselves.
Correspondingly, as Siegert tells at page 299, Chladni’s and Fourier’s (graphical) visualizations of sound – ‘das Herauswachsen des Diskreten’ – were radicalized by Oersted who first of all reasoned that these waves are composed of a number of even tinier waves that diffuse. Secondly, Oersted’s discovery in 1820 accounts for a change in media. (301)
These themes seem to recur in Stockhausen’s conception of loudspeaker experience. He not only created synthetical sound, but also believed that this sound would become the new standard for music listening. Die Elektronische Musik als Gattung hat […] ihre eigene Klangphänomenologie, die nicht zuletzt durch die Lautsprecherwiedergabe bedingt ist. (Stockhausen 1963: 144) This sound phenomenology is inseparable from the loudspeaker: Die Hörer am Lautsprecher werden früher oder später verstehen, daß es sinnvoller ist, wenn aus dem Lautsprecher Musik kommt, die man nur am Lautsprecher und nirgendwo anders empfangen kann. (146-147)
Stockhausen and Siegert both give insights in the reinvention of subjectivity; Siegert in ‘Medien des Unbewuβten’ and Stockhausen by using loudspeakers as music instruments creating shifting perspectives. Other relevant concepts come from Ritter/Hegel and Oersted like feedback mechanism, short circuity (302), and the electric shock (page 298 of Siegert): Erst durch den Stromschlag (bei Trennung und Schlieβung der Kette) wird der “Eintritt der Bestimmung des Organs ein Gegenstand der Wahrnehmung.” As Siegert then depicts in ‘Spasmen’, how the introduction of new concepts, like Cauchy’s proof (Siegert: 309-312), almost announces a new religion, or a new relation with the transcendental. Similarly, Stockhausen’s sketches of a new concert hall (Kugelauditorium) and his prophetic writings almost imply a new religion.
Siegert’s history of media techniques helps us to understand ourselves as creatures who learn to understand ourselves by entering into relations with actors around us through techniques and technology. My thought experiments with the applicability of Siegert to loudspeaker listening, mediated by the theories of Sloterdijk and Stockhausen’s experiments, also functioned as a way to illustrate the most significant points I located in the chapters of this session.
Siegert shows that throughout history humans have developed and changed perspectives, each time exposing different aspects of ourselves and conceptualizing and re-conceptualizing our modes of experience.