Harry Burson on Stereo in the 19th Century at SCMS

01 May, 2019

Harry Burson on Stereo in the 19th Century at SCMS

Harry Burson received a Spring 2019 BCNM Conference Grant to help cover his costs attending the Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference in Seattle, Washington. Harry presented "Stereo in the 19th Century: Space, Audition, and the Théâtrophone." Read more about his experience in his own words below!

I very much appreciate the Berkeley Center for New Media’s support to attend this year’s conference for Society for Cinema and Media Studies in Toronto. I presented a paper, “Stereo in the 19th Century: Space, Audition, and the Théâtrophone” that is a media archaeological exploration of the earliest experiments and demonstrations of stereophonic sound at the end of the 19th Century. I focused on the first two public demonstrations of stereo that both occurred in Paris in the 1880s, as French inventor Clément Ader presented his telephonic system first at the 1881 Exposition of Electricity and again eight years later at the Universal Exposition of 1889. The contemporaneous discourse on Ader’s invention regarding questions of aesthetic discernment, spatial mediation, and private absorption suggest the construction of a self-consciously “modern” forms of listening that have been closely tied to stereo since its moment of inception. I argue that these largely forgotten applications of multi-channel sound reveal a genealogy of stereo sound as a part of a formative media environment in which the new technologies reshaped received conceptions of space that are still relevant to contemporary responses to immersive media technology today.

I presented as part of a panel titled “Early Contributions to Sound and Vision” with other scholars exploring the continued relevance of turn of the century audiovisual technology to contemporary media studies. In addition to my panel, I attended a number of other excellent sessions with scholars presenting work related to my research interests in new media and sound studies. The excellent panel “Acoustic Space and Cinematic Ecologies, 1950-1980” co-chaired by Henning Engelke and Sophia Graefe featured papers examining the intersection of sound, science, environment, and avant-garde film. Another fascinating panel, “Disquieting Labor: The Battles of New Hollywood Audio Workers” co-chaired by Katherine Quanz and Eric Diesntfrey brought much-needed attention to the question of labor in the changing industrial and aesthetic practices of New Hollywood. At SCMS, I am continually impressed and excited by the breadth and quality of new scholarship bring produced in the field of media studies.