Public Address System, „Dietrich-Eckart-Bühne“, Berlin 1936 [now: „Waldbühne“]“, source: Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst, 20.1936, 276n-q“.

Project (2017)

Volume and Vibration: A Media and Knowledge History of Public Address Systems in Germany circa 1930

This project investigates public address systems installed by the Nazis at the “Reichssportfeld,” the area built for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and those systems’ amplified sounds. The sports field was addressed by different—centralized and decentralized—loudspeaker systems, built by the German company Telefunken partly in cooperation with the music technician Friedrich Trautwein. Against this backdrop, I study aspects of the genealogy of knowledge both about and through loud, electronically amplified sound and its associated political and aesthetic practices.

I develop this subject following three threads. (I) I analyze how music interlocked with electroacoustic research on giant loudspeakers, amplifiers, and microphones in the cooperation between Trautwein and Telefunken. What concept of electronic sound was at stake here—were the systems supposed to simply reproduce sound (as Hans Gerdien, head of Siemens & Halske’s research laboratories, argued in 1926), or to enable new sound concepts and forms of music? Trautwein advocated a fascist mass rally music that ideally was tuned to powerful speaker systems and worked via “‘superhuman’ dynamics” and “super-volumes” (Überlautstärken), as he put it in 1938. (II) What interests me at the level of media history is that the development of loudspeaker systems includes a history of the vacuum tube. In radio and telephone technology, tubes increased transmission distance, but as part of loudspeaker systems they were used to produce and increase sound “volume.” How did the tube become articulated with the development of giant loudspeakers at Siemens & Halske in the 1920s? How was electronic sound conceptualized as an entity that has “volume,” reducible neither to the physical measurement of sound intensity nor to musical dynamics? What kind of knowledge about sound vibration experiences correlated with the development of these systems? (III) I examine early loudspeaker systems within a history of the technological design of environments and atmospheres—which included the design of light (Beleuchtung), of weather (Bewetterung), and of sound (Beschallung). At the Reichssportfeld, sound technologies became part of media ecologies that aimed for a fascist collectivization and overwhelming of the audience.