“The Auscultation of Culture: Sound Recordings and Knowledge Production”
Abstract: The debris of projects of imperial knowledge production holds sounding chards: recordings with songs, stories, accounts and grammatical examples in non-European languages that were produced as material for the study of music, languages, and cultures from the late nineteenth century. The interception of different practices and strategies of conservation–those of archives and repertoires–reverberates in those sound recordings, which became objects for the study of culture and its representations, yet also conserved fragments of other knowledges, historiologies, comments and critique. The Berlin Lautarchiv holds the acoustic and written documentation of a massive project of recording, a “cultural auscultation” of a grand scale: prisoners of World War I who were interned in German camps were recorded to create an archive of languages. My paper offers an introduction to listening to and reading these acoustic collections, along with the examples of recordings with African prisoners of World War I from the Berlin Lautarchiv, who became objects of anthropological research, yet were also speakers who articulated their impressions of war and captivity in the camps in Germany. While the project of the Lautarchiv is exceptional in scale and systematic approach, its archive is also symptomatic of the methods and procedures of acoustically archiving languages and music as objects of study and thus affords us to engage with a series of questions around the status of the recorded voice, of sound-archiving, and the historical value (specifically) of sonic archives.
Bio: Anette Hoffmann is a senior researcher at the Archive und Public Culture Research Initiative at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where she established a focus on acoustic archives in recent years. Currently she works on a collection of historical sound recordings with African prisoners of World War I, from the Lautarchiv in Berlin. She curated the exhibition What We See, which engages with voice recordings from an anthropometric project in Namibia in 1931 and was shown in Cape Town, Basel, Wien, Osnabrück, Berlin and Windhoek. The accompanying publication, What We See. Reconsidering an Anthropometric Collection from Southern Africa: Images, Voices, and Versioning, came out in 2009. Hoffmann also published on sensitive collections in museums and archives (Berner/Hoffmann/Lange. Sensible Sammlungen. Aus dem Anthropologischen Depot, 2012) and created the sound/text installation (with Regina Sarreiter, Andrea Bellu and Matei Bellu) Unerhörter Bericht über die deutschen Verbrechen in den kolonisierten Gebieten und über das fortwährende Wirken der Gewalt bis in die Gegenwart based on her research, and shown in the exhibition Acts of Voicing in Stuttgart and in His Master’s Voice: On Voice and Language in Dortmund (2012/13).