I Hear a New World

Melle Jan Kromhout (University of Cambridge), ‘I Hear a New World: Friedrich Kittler’s Concept of Music in the Age of Technical Media’

From his earliest writings to unfinished magnum opus Musik und Mathematik, sound and music are a central, but often overlooked theme in media philosopher Friedrich Kittler’s oeuvre. Defined in “The God of Ears” (1984) as “a song from beyond mankind” and in “Musik als Medium” (1995) as music based on “pure media-technology,” I suggest that the idea of what Kittler repeatedly calls an ‘other’ music’ can be conceptualised as a way to make sense of sound and music in the age of technical media.

On the one hand, a media technological concept of sound emphasises how music shaped by the physical processes of sound technology is no longer subject to the symbolic logic of written notes on paper. Instead, with the advance of technological sound (re)production, music once again became the sound of physically unfolding time. Filling the ears and brains of listeners, it represents nothing but physical sound itself.

On the other hand, Kittler’s description in “Bei Tanzmusik Kommt Es Einem in die Beinen” (1998) of the “unforeseeable, unthinkable, unimaginable acoustic events” produced by sound media also hints at a more emphatic, maybe even more humanistic side to the ‘other music.’ After all, as he argues in “Lightning and Series – Event and Thunder” (2002) “as long as a turntable is spinning or a CD is running,” the ‘other music’ also evokes the ultimate promise of halting time itself and warding off death.

This paper presents a close reading of Kittler’s ideas on music from the early eighties up to the 2000’s in dialogue with recent work by scholars like Wolfgang Ernst and Bernhard Siegert. It thereby sets out to flesh out the concept of the ‘other music’ as the basis for a media-archaeological theory of the music of the media age.

Melle Jan Kromhout is a Postdoctoral Research fellow at the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Music. As part of the ERC-funded project Sound and Materialism in the 19th Century, his project entitled ‘Infinite Oscillations. A Sonic History of Fourier Analysis  and  Sine  Wave,’  deals  with  the  development of the physical concepts of Fourier analysis and sine waves and their importance for the study of sound and music in the first half of the nineteenth century, as well as the defining role they played in the development of modern sonic and musical cultures. He has published on music, sound and media in peer-reviewed journals, contributed a book chapter to Thresholds of Listening (Fordham University Press, 2015) and presented at conferences in, amongst other places, Berkeley, Berlin, Amsterdam and London. In 2014/15, together with Dr Peter McMurray (Harvard/MIT), he hosted a successful online international reading group on Berhard Siegert’s seminal book Passage des Digitalen (http://digitalpassage.wordpress.com).


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