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A History of Electroacoustics: Hollywood 1956 – 1963


This dissertation argues that a cinematic approach to music recording developed during the 1950s, modeling the recording process of movie producers in post-production studios. This approach to recorded sound constructed an imaginary listener consisting of a blank perceptual space, whose sonic-auditory experience could be controlled through electroacoustic devices. This history provides an audiovisual genealogy for electroacoustic sound that challenges histories of recording that have privileged Thomas Edison’s 1877 phonograph and the recording industry it generated. It is elucidated through a consideration of the use of electroacoustic technologies for music that centered in Hollywood and drew upon sound recording practices from the movie industry. This consideration is undertaken through research in three technologies that underwent significant development in the 1950s: the recording studio, the mixing board, and the synthesizer. The 1956 Capitol Records Studio in Hollywood was the first purpose-built recording studio to be modelled on sound stages from the neighboring film lots. The mixing board was the paradigmatic tool of the recording studio, a central interface from which to direct and shape sound. Finally, the electronic synthesizer offered the potential for total control over sonic timbre, as can be seen in the use of the Trautonium in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Together, these histories advance an understanding of recorded sound that de-centers the idea of reproduction, and emphasizes instead twentieth-century cybernetic ideals of influence, and, ultimately, control, through the recorded medium of sound.

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