Monday, September 3, 2012















I moved into a house. I guess it's something that people do. I've been spending time with practicalities: getting my computer to work, etc. Of course the whole time I do all these things I'm thinking about sound. It's interesting how symbolic culture has become largely a subset of material culture, as material forms and norms of communication proliferate. Most (if not all) of our communication is conducted through physical, mechanical systems. The spoken word, the song, the group gathering, the public hearing, even the private hearing.... I experience less and less of these. In Calumet I could always tell who was coming up the stairs of my building, twenty one steps in all, or who opened the door at the foot of the stairs. I always knew the mailman by the way he opened the door. And it occurred to me that the creaking and squeaking of the floorboards was heard by the original tenants in 1903, so I was hearing old sounds. For most, sounds are simply "by products" of material events, but they are in fact material events in an of themselves. See, I'm just thinking aloud here. Probably rather redundantly...
In "Introduction to Archaeology," James Deetz muses that language could possibly be considered artifactual, owing to the fact that the pieces and parts of words and grammar (morphemes and phonemes) are classifiable; one can make sense of them as units of cultural meaning just as arrowheads can be grouped and classified by shape and size, etc. But I don't think 'classifiability' is the main prerequisite for inclusion into the realm of artifact, nor is preservability, recordability, archivability....

Richard Cullen Rath's "How Early America Sounded" has been invaluable in helping develop all of these observations, especially with the crucial awareness of to what degree speech, oral communication, yelling, singing, group gatherings were a part of our lives. Actual speech now is in competition with recorded sound in almost every public (and private) venue, leading to what Schaefer characterized as "schizophonia."

The house I'm living in now has a remarkable acoustic history with ample documentation. It was an organizing point for the Anti-Rent movement that happened in New York in the mid 1800's. I don't know what a tin horn sounds like, but that's what one would have heard both inside and around this house, or maybe a conch shell.... There is only one book that I know of dedicated to this remarkable event in American History: "Tin Horns and Calico," by Henry Christman (thank you Alan!) There was a lot of rabble-rousing going on here. Now it is quiet, but perhaps the stones remember....