Volume and Vibration. A Sound and Music History of Loudspeaker Systems, Germany circa 1930.

A lecture by Dr Jens G. Papenburg

15Mar2018 15:30 - 17:00


For the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the Nazis built the “Reichssportfeld“ (now: “Olympiapark Berlin”). An important part of this gigantic sport field were various loudspeaker systems, which were installed by the electroacoustic department (ELA) of the company Telefunken.

In my presentation I sketch a sound and music history of these systems that is informed by cultural and media theory. For this purpose I analyse different sonic strategies employed for addressing open air stages and stadiums and other fields and rooms circa 1930. To be able to elaborate the aesthetical, political and epistemological implications of these strategies I analyse the installation, application, use and reception of the sport fields’ loudspeaker systems, its sounds between “tender outdoor music” (Carl Orff) and monumental “mass rally music“ (Friedrich Trautwein) and the development of powerful tube amplifiers and giant loudspeakers by the companies Siemens & Halske and Telefunken.

Via 1920s and 1930s loudspeaker systems, I argue, sound was conceptualised more and more as an entity with “volume”. I introduce volume as a productive and fuzzy, primarily spatial concept that is situated between physics and traditional music theory, between measurable amplitude and musical dynamics. What discourses, practices and media technologies correlated circa 1930 with a new conceptualization of sound as a voluminous entity? In the second half of the 20thcentury massive sound volumes became a central aesthetic dimension of multiple forms of popular music. By exploring sound systems of the 1920s and 1930s aspects of a pre-history of this dimension can be studied productively.

Jens Gerrit Papenburg studied musicology, communication research, and economics in Berlin, obtaining his PhD in 2012 with the dissertation “Hörgeräte: Technisierung der Wahrnehmung durch Rock- und Popmusik” and his postdoctoral qualification (Habilitation) in 2016 with “‘Para-auditive’ Subjekte der populären Musik: Eine Kultur- und Mediengeschichte, 1890–1936.” In 2017, he was visiting professor at the Institute for Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media (ICAM) at Leuphana University Lüneburg, and in 2016/17 visiting professor for History and Theory of Popular Music at the Humboldt University, Berlin, where he taught and researched from 2006 to 2016 and again from October 2017.

Jens Gerrit Papenburg is the coeditor of  Sound as Popular Culture: A Research Companion (MIT Press, 2016). He cofounded the international research network “Sound in Media Culture: Aspects of a Cultural History of Sound” (funded by the German Research Foundation DFG, 2010–2016) and serves on the editorial board of Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (Routledge). His research interests are popular music, culture, and media since 1890; sound studies; sonic media theory and historiography; and the history and culture of engineered music listening. 


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