- Music Library 2406
As promises of mediation, efforts at amplification, and future-oriented projects, field recording projects are the stuff of vulnerable dreams: the facilitation of collective acts of listening and work that hopes toward a sonic commons. This talk asks how academic field recording, including but not limited to the discipline of ethnomusicology, was shaped by tape recording. First used on location to record dance, speech, and music in 1936 by Nazi researchers, magnetic tape became the standard format for academic sound recording by 1952. My presentation turns to three state-funded ethnomusicological projects devised to “catalog humanity,” as Katherine Lemov might put it, and made possible by early reel-to-reel recorders and shaped by the nuisances of mid-century maps, cars, and electrical wiring. I foreground scenes from these expeditions where sound and tape caused a problem: part-singing in South Tyrol, a Black spiritual in Southern Appalachia, and a harvesting song in Polish Silesia. Through my analysis, which takes into account the afterlives of these tapes, I interrogate how this format’s devices and affordances shaped the practices and ethics—even feelings and relations—of field recording, asking what it might mean to consider tape recording an infrastructure of and for ethnomusicology beyond this mid-century moment.