MUSTS Colloquium with Viktoria Tkaczyk on ‘Sharpening the Mind’s Ear’

Wednesday, March 24, 2021, 15:30-17:00

The link to this online event can be requested by sending an email to j{dot}bruyninckx{at}maastrichtuniversity{dot}nl


When the outside world is silent, all sorts of sounds can come to mind: inner voices, snippets of past conversations, imaginary debates, and retrospective witticisms. What should we make of such sonic companions? This talk investigates a period when these and other aural phenomena prompted a far-reaching debate in the academic world. Through case studies from Paris, Vienna, Geneva, and Berlin, it shows that the identification of the auditory cortex in late nineteenth-century neuroanatomy

affected numerous disciplines across the sciences and humanities, from neuroanatomy, psycho- physiology, and psychoanalysis, to linguistics and metaphysics, to shock-wave physics, materials science, and architectural acoustics, to musicology, literary studies, and theater studies, and finally to phoniatry, language pedagogy, and radio studies. Each now payed attention to the mind’s ear and created sound-related knowledge techniques that were central to its epistemological agenda.

In my talk, I will move non-chronologically through these numerous scientific and humanistic fields, showing that in an increasingly diverse academic landscape, with ever more specialized fields of research, auditory concepts worked in two ways: to draw epistemological distinctions, staking out a raison d’être for certain disciplines, and as a binding theme between disciplines. The scholars and scientists presented in this talk responded creatively to the new cultures of music and audio communication arising around 1900, and to technologies that generated alternate modes of recording, collecting, and comparing sound data. In turn, their auditory knowledge was applied in industrial, aesthetic, pedagogical, social and political domains outside the academic realm. Looking more closely at these conjunctions illuminates a moment in time that gave rise to many of the structures, theories, and fields of application underlying recent trends such as Sound Studies. More generally, it opens up a discussion about what applied research in the sciences and humanities can or should aim for.



Viktoria Tkaczyk is full professor at the musicology and media studies department of the Humboldt University Berlin, and works on technologies and knowledge techniques from the early modern to the modern period. She received her PhD in theatre studies from Freie Universität Berlin, and was subsequently a Feodor Lynen Fellow at the REHSEIS (Université Paris-Diderot/CNRS in Paris. Between 2011 and 2014, she was Assistant Professor of Arts and New Media at the University of Amsterdam, and from 2015 to 2020, she headed the Max Planck Research Group “Epistemes of Modern Acoustics” and the German Research Foundation–funded project “Epistemic Dissonances: Objects and Tools of Early Modern Acoustics” at the FU Berlin (CRC 980). Viktoria Tkaczyk published widely on the history of aviation, mechanics, architecture, and acoustics, and initiated the database “Sound & Science: Digital Histories.” Her most recent work addresses the history of the neurosciences, experimentation and testing, archiving and data processing infrastructure, and the politics of applied knowledge.