In this exploration of the physical roots of electronic sound culture, I showed how we’ve always chased sublime sonic experiences, sometimes going to extreme lengths to fulfil our sonic obsessions. The title refers to a nineteenth-century listener who attempted to possess the perfect echo, heard on a grand tour – a venture with a disturbing and surprising outcome.
In music, any concerns about the dehumanising influence of technology have always been mixed with a degree of machine envy. Musicians have always been consummate cyborgs, enmeshing their bodies with machines and animal parts to augment their sonic capabilities – and centuries before vocal plug-ins, some sought otherworldly sounds by going under the surgeon’s knife. When human sound first took flight from the body, with the advent of the telephone and phonograph, some listeners found the effect disturbing. Today, in the era of transmitted audio and disembodied music downloads, it’s the physical, sometimes fleshy precursors of our electronic sound technology which can seem uncanny.
In September 2014 and January 2015, I presented this talk at Off the Page, the UK’s only literary festival devoted to music criticism and audio culture.. Off the Page was staged by The Wire, working with the Arnolfini, Bristol, and nyMusikk, Oslo. A version of this talk was also performed at Tartu Elektriteater, Estonia, for Prima Vista Festival.