Welcome to my “Kunstkopf stereophony”-blog. This blog accompanies a research project about the history of dummy head recording. The project is funded by the Fonds Nationals de la Recherche Luxembourg, and located at Luxembourg University. The idea is that I will publish regular updates about the project’s progress as well as general posts on the history of dummy head recording.

Here’s a short description of the research project (you can also read the full research proposal): The history of dummy head technology, i.e. the use of an artificial head for binaural sound recording, is a story of high hopes, disappointments, and late success. Presented at the Berlin International Radio and Television Fair in 1973 and praised for its true to the original sound event “super-stereo”-quality, contemporaneous commentators expected that the new technology would revolutionize radio and music recording. However, by the end of the decade, it was considered a failed innovation. Then, in the late 1980s, dummy head technology started a second career as a measurement instrument in acoustical engineering. These two very different trajectories of dummy head technology are interesting examples of the ruptures and discontinuities in the development of a sound technology. These ruptures reveal a multiplicity of listening practices and habits which would otherwise be hidden in non-discursive practices. The failed establishment of dummy head use in radio and music recording helps to reveal the historical specificity and plurality of “listening positions” of recording engineers, electrical engineers, radio makers, and radio listeners.

As an analytical framework I will use insights from innovation study literature on path dependencies. More precisely, I will look into institutional, technological, medial, and socio-cultural path dependencies that hampered or enabled the success of dummy head recording in the two fields of application. I will argue that socio-cultural path dependencies in music recording played a crucial role in the failed acceptance of the dummy head microphone in radio and music recording, as well as in the successful introduction of the dummy head as a measuring device in technical acoustics. To show this I will use the “aural thinking” (Susan Schmidt Horning) of acoustical engineers, recording engineers, and radio makers. I will further argue that new ways of listening and envisioning sound evolved around the new sound technology of dummy head recording: an intriguing example of the co-construction of sound technologies and listening practices.

The research project has thus two main objectives: it will help to better understand the various conditions for technical innovation in the media industry. I argue that studying the path dependencies of a sound technology like dummy head recording will enhance our insight into innovation processes in the media industry and can e.g. help to understand the frictions and complexities in the introduction of 3D-cinema. Secondly, the project will furthermore provide insights into (professional) listening practices and thus contribute to a more general understanding of the nature and historical situatedness of aural thinking. The case of dummy head technology is of particular interest here as it represented a crucial episode in our general understanding of human spatial hearing.

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