Auditory Memory

Auditory Memory: A Shared Topos in the Arts and Sciences around 1900


Model for the memory of a bell sound, after Jean-Martin Charcot, in: Gilbert Ballet, Le langue intérieur et les diverses formes de l’aphasie. Paris: Félix Alcan, 1888, 25.

In 1866, the Viennese psychiatrist and neuroanatomist Theodor Meynert located in the human cerebral cortex what he called a “sound field,” responsible for the human powers of recall that are linked to auditory perception and the faculty of speech. This book project traces how Meynert’s discovery was taken up repeatedly in the years that followed: different notions of auditory memorization began to be coined in physiology, psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and pedagogy, and related research on “absolute pitch,” “the reader’s inner voice,” or “the singer’s laryngeal memory” helped pave the way for the field of experimental aesthetics. At the same time, new audio technologies provided alternate modes of sound reproduction and a series of sound archives were founded to collect, preserve, and disseminate sound data. Starting from these historical conjunctions, the project traces the use and circulation of the term “auditory memory” in science, the humanities, and artistic practices around 1900. The study is primarily microhistorical, but at key intersections it points back to auditory mnemotechniques in the early modern history of rhetoric, music, and theatrical performance. It also offers a historically grounded encounter with current developments in auditory neuroscience and psychoacoustics.

  • Tkaczyk, V. (2015). The shot is fired unheard: Sigmund Exner and the physiology of reverberation. Grey Room, 60, 66-81.
  • Tkaczyk, V. (2012). Theater und Wortgedächtnis: eine Spurensuche nach der Gegenwart. In E. Fischer-Lichte (Ed.), Die Aufführung: Diskurs – Macht – Analyse (pp. 275-289). München: Fink.