2. Theoretical background

We originally developed Sound Souvenirs to compete in the Battle of the Universities. While Sound Souvenirs made it to the finals, it did not become a winner however. We are nevertheless continuing our activities as much as possible, basing the activities within Sound Souvenirs on three kinds of research.

a. History of sound

The history of sound is a young branch of historiography, with the first publications appearing only in the seventies. Initially, focus was on how our ‘soundscape’ – the entirety of sounds with which we are surrounded- has changed since the industrial revolution. The pioneers of this branch of research were driven primarily by an ecological interest. One of them, Raymond Murray Schafer, found it worrisome that western man had traded in a ‘hi-fi’ society for a ‘lo-fi’ variety. He posed that while sounds in the pre-industrial period had still been clear and distinct, they were thereafter becoming increasingly masked by others. The machine hum had become the prime ‘key note’ sound, while many other kinds of sounds had –just like plant and animal species- become extinct. This disappearing soundscape could be mapped by tracking down source material from ear witnesses, and by making all kinds of periodic sound recordings.

This approach was criticized however. For, how interesting was it really to only document the sounds of the past? Was it not more relevant to assess what a selection of these sounds had meant? Alain Corbin, a historian who had also written about the history of smell, initiated this approach. His book about the church bells of the 19th century French countryside (1994) showed that these bells not only structured the daily rhythm of the people in the countryside, but were also of great importance for the spatial orientation of travelers, the news supply of the villagers, and the symbolism of the power of churches and villages. The most important result of his research focus was the rise of an interest in the cultural history of listening.
Thus, musicologists started wondering why it is that, today, we hardly dare to cough during concerts, while the concert halls of the 18th century were very noisy. James Johnson (1995) attributed this shift to the rise of the bourgeois and ‘absolute music’ – music in which the imitation of existing sounds was no longer central, but rather the expression of authentic emotions was most important. Others added to this the relevance of piano education. As the future concert visitors were presented with piano arrangements of symphonies, respect for big composers would be hammered home (Smithuijsen 2001).

Over the past years many studies have appeared on the cultural meaning of sound (Bijsterveld 2001 & 2003, Smith 1999, Smith 2001, Thompson 2002, Rath 2003, Picker 2003) and the culture of listening (Bull 2000 & 2003, DeNora 2000). As to the latter theme, research more often than not comes from the field of media-studies. For, what has been the importance of the phonograph, the gramophone, the radio and other sound technologies for the ways in which we listen? Producers of the phonograph have had to work very hard to first of all convince consumers that the sound on the cylinder was a faithful copy of the sound of a real musician (Thompson 1995, Siefert 1995, Sterne 2003) and secondly to teach them that they had to visually imagine the artists while listening (Katz 2004).

This brings us to the second branch of research that we are popularizing in Sound Souvenirs: the acceptation of new technology

b. Cultural History of Technology

Research into the cultural history of technology is a reaction against technological-historic research that focused exclusively on showing the changes in the nuts and bolts of technical artifacts. Often this kind of research went hand in hand with technological determinism: the idea that technological development takes place autonomously, and that technology is the motor of social change (Smith & Marx 1984). In opposition to this idea a tradition of evolutionary oriented research developed in which the idea was stressed that technology was for a large part shaped by the social environment in which it evolves, and therefore does not develop autonomously at all (Bijker, Pinch & Hughes 1987) The latest research on the other hand pays more attention to the societal impact of technology. Once technology is strongly embedded in the networks of a certain society, it gains a certain ‘obduracy’ that strongly limits the space for new choices (Hommels 2005). Following these new approaches there was a big interest in the role of users in innovation: the acceptation and adaptation of technology after an invention has been put on theenduran market (Oudshoorn & Pinch 2003). A lot of attention is paid to the way in which technology is ‘domesticated’ or ‘naturalised’ in technology. Thus, Tichi (1991) showed how the television needed to be shaped as furniture in order to be accepted in American livingrooms. : There is also a growing interest in the role of early adopters of technology in innovation and their characteristic tinkering practices (Kline 2000, Douglas 1999, Haring 2003). The article that led to Sound Souvenirs has to be placed in this latter tradition (Bijsterveld 2004). It shows the differences between on the one hand the ideas of producers about the use of the the tape-recorder and on the other hand the cultural practices, such as those of the sound-hunters, that actually developed around the tape-recorder.
The attention for the culture of use has brought technological-historical research close to the research into material culture. This is the kind of research that is practiced at the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam.

While for years, the describing of objects and habits of folk culture was foremost, now the focus has completely shifted to both the meaning that these artifacts have in a certain cultural setting and the coming about of traditions (Tilley et al. 2006, Rooijakkers & Gerding 2001)

c. Cultural studies of mediated sound and memory

Within media- and cultural studies, but also outside it, there has been a growing interest over the last years for the role of the media in our cultures of remembrance. The interest is in the ways in which we keep our memories of the past alive by means of media, or put more precisely, in the ways in which we record and shape our memories of the past. For, after all, recording itself affects our future memories (Draaisma 2001). Initially attention was mostly paid to the role of statues, photographs, film and other kinds of visual representations. Research into the meaning of sound carriers has recently been added to this list. Above all, it is not just the contribution of mediated products to our political history that attracts attention, but also its contribution to personal and family histories that is of interest nowadays (Aasman 2004)

It is important to stress that this is not psychological research of the experimental tradition with which we are concerned here but rather research that makes use of qualitative methods. Those methods are either ethnographical or literary. In the case of ethnographical research people are interviewed in their ‘natural’ environments, analogous to anthropological research. Thus, Tia DeNora researched what people do with their music collections. Her interviews showed that people often play certain music to recount memories of specific situations. In the case of literary research narrative analysis is employed to unravel people’s stories about their past. A study by José van Dijck into the formation of the Top 2000 showed for example that people often account for their choices by referring to the role of music in their personal biography. Certain records have become connected to important events in their lives.

The Sound Souvenirs Project