Experimental Record: Intonationsprobe. [Erich M. von] Hornbostel

Experimental Record: "Intonationsprobe. [Erich M. von] Hornbostel auf E-Dur: 1. Deutschland, 2. [?], 3. Deutschland tief, 4. idem hoch. Phonograph cylinder." (Source: Ethnologisches Museum der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz).

(The recording was made during studies by Otto Abraham and Erich von Hornbostel on perfect pitch (“absolutes Gehör”) between 1907 and 1914)

Project (2017-2019)

Listening to More Than Sounds: Experimental Recordings at the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv

The Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv was founded in the first decade of the twentieth century as part of the Institute of Psychology, University of Berlin. This connects the archive to the emergence of several new disciplines at the Institute, including Gestalt psychology, music psychology, and comparative musicology. Of the 30,000 phonographic recordings stored in the archive, some 100 were made for experimental purposes. In my project, I ask how these “experimental cylinders” relate to the new disciplines. Among other things, I examine the case of whispered vowel sounds, presumably recorded on one of these cylinders. The barely audible sound one hears on the recording indicates the challenge that this topic posed for phonographic recording as a technical device, and recalls Carl Stumpf’s inquiry into cognitive presets in listeners. For Stumpf, the topic of whispering epitomized the question of how to distinguish between meaningful and meaningless, expressive and haphazard, sung and spoken sound. I investigate how these questions were taken up by Stumpf’s colleagues, psychologist Otto Abraham and musicologist Erich Moritz von Hornbostel, and how the gap between the recorded item and the potential cognitive operations it enabled later widened, eventually becoming a field of study of its own.