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Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity

Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity: Essays on the history of sound

Joy Damousi
Desley Deacon
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity
    Book Description:

    Historians have, until recently, been silent about sound. This collection of essays on talking and listening in the age of modernity brings together major Australian scholars who have followed Alain Corbin's injunction that historians 'can no longer afford to neglect materials pertaining to auditory perception'. Ranging from the sound of gunfire on the Australian gold-fields to Alfred Deakin's virile oratory, these essays argue for the influence of the auditory in forming individual and collective subjectivities; the place of speech in understanding individual and collective endeavours; the centrality of speech in marking and negating difference and in struggles for power; and the significance of the technologies of radio and film in forming modern cultural identities.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-48-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction Listening to the past
    (pp. 1-6)
    Joy Damousi and Desley Deacon

    The ubiquitous sound of gun-fire on the Australian gold-fields; the silence of men in the Citroën factory outside Paris as the giant drop-hammers boomed, the milling machines screamed, the boring machines squealed and the pulleys sighed; Australian schoolchildren reciting in one nation-wide accent; Alfred Deakin′s virile oratory; William Tilly′s dream of a ′World English′; ideas of what was a ′legitimate′ or ′pure′ Australian accent; powerful speech, intimate speech and ′bad English′ in American talkies—the experience and meaning of these sounds and silences have seemed, until recently, too ineffable to be captured by historians.

    Historians of modernity have, until recently,...

  4. Part I

    • 1. A ′Roaring Decade′: Listening to the Australian gold-fields
      (pp. 7-18)
      Diane Collins

      Unlike lions or trade winds, decades do not, in general, roar. An obvious exception is the 1920s. The roar of the Twenties came from new technologies such as radio and talking pictures, new art forms such as jazz, a more strident and intense urbanism and new personal freedoms. Sound was listened to as inescapable and affirmative, the language of machines, experiment, consumption, pleasure. Except for such rare cases, it is not sufficiently appreciated how our experience of sound influences our interpretation of time. The notion of the ′Roaring Twenties′ is, to be sure, a metaphor, but historians and other social...

    • 2. A Complex Kind of Training: Cities, technologies and sound in jazz-age Europe
      (pp. 19-34)
      James Donald

      Writing in the 1920s, Robert Musil opens his novel The Man Without Qualities by evoking Vienna in the final days before the Great War changed everything. His visual imagery recalls contemporary experiments in abstract and rhythmic film-making by Walther Ruttmann, Hans Richter or Viking Eggling. Blocks of light and shade are cross-cut by lines in motion—speeding automobiles in Musil′s case—while the movement of pedestrians negotiating their way through the city′s streets creates more fluid, fractal patterns. The way Musil ′hears′ the city, however, is more ambivalent and less assertively modernist. His ′wiry texture′ of sound shares the jagged...

  5. Part II

    • 3. Speech, Children and the Federation Movement
      (pp. 35-48)
      Alan Atkinson

      It is still something of a mystery as to why voters in Australia agreed to the federation of the colonies in 1901. The prevailing argument among historians for many years made much of regional economic interests, but during the 1990s a new type of Australian nationalism led to a focus on motivation of a more altruistic kind. The inspirational language used by men such as Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin, by patriotic writers of fiction and verse and by oratorically gifted members of the Australian Natives Association (ANA), during the 1880s and 1890s, has been dissected for what it says...

    • 4. Sounds of History: Oratory and the fantasy of male power
      (pp. 49-58)
      Marilyn Lake

      In 1907, Arthur Atlee Hunt, the sensitive and self-regarding Secretary of External Affairs in the Prime Minister′s Office, accompanied his ′Chief′, Alfred Deakin, to the Colonial Conference in London. He reported on his experience, and that of the Prime Minister, in a series of confidential and detailed letters to his friend Bob Garran, in Melbourne, asking Garran to keep the letters as ′a memento of these important doings′.¹ Central to Hunt′s reports to his friend were detailed accounts of Prime Minister Deakin′s speech-making, widely praised as exemplary in its oratorical power.

      What also becomes clear in Hunt′s letters is the...

    • 5. Hunting the Wild Reciter: Elocution and the Art of Recitation
      (pp. 59-72)
      Peter Kirkpatrick

      Despite the endurance of bush poetry festivals and an inner-city fashion for contemporary spoken word and performance poetry, these days the recitation of verse in Australia—as in other Western anglophone nations—remains a minority taste. Early last century, things were very different. In the 1920s, Australians were reciting verse all over the place; so much so that the well-known Bulletin humorist ′Kodak′ O′Ferrall lampooned them:

      Way out in the suburbs howls the wild Reciter,

      Storming like a general, bragging like a blighter;

      He would shame hyenas slinking in their dens

      As he roars at peaceful folk whose joy is...

  6. Part III

    • 6. World English? How an Australian Invented ′Good American Speech′
      (pp. 73-82)
      Desley Deacon

      In May 1922, Windsor P. Daggett wrote admiringly in the American entertainment magazine Billboard about the preaching of the Reverend Frederick W. Norwood, who was visiting from City Temple, London. ′He surprised the congregation,′ Daggett observed, ′by talking ″just like an American″. At least his speech was so free from any trace of regional dialect that some of the audience was a little surprised to think that Mr Norwood was an Englishman.′ ′Not a British intonation entered into his preaching,′ Daggett went on, ′and his general impression of quiet force and normal speech was so similar to that of the...

    • 7. ′The Australian Has a Lazy Way of Talking′: Australian character and accent, 1920s–1940s
      (pp. 83-96)
      Joy Damousi

      The Australian has a lazy way of talking through closed teeth. Much remains to be done.¹

      In his 1930 text, Australia, W. K. Hancock was perhaps more attuned to speech than other Australian historians either before or since his publication. In discussing the descendants of Australian convicts, he observed astutely that one clue for identifying them was through language. We ′may suspect′, he observes, ′that there has come down to us, by subtle hidden channels, a vague unmeasured inheritance from those early days′.²

      Hancock believed that it was absurd to try to replicate the English accent and ′attempt the impossible...

    • 8. Towards a History of the Australian Accent
      (pp. 97-112)
      Bruce Moore

      In 1927 in Australian Pronunciation: A Handbook for the Teaching of English in Australia, Ruby W. Board presents a firm notion of what the best pronunciation of English is:

      In every English-speaking country there is to be found amongst cultivated people a certain pronunciation, which is unconsciously accepted as the best speech. On examination no trace of dialect can be detected, nothing that will single out the speaker, no touch of provincialism or of affectation. It is understood by all without effort, it is pleasant to the ear, and it may be heard in England, Scotland, Ireland, in all of...

    • 9. Voice, Power and Modernity
      (pp. 113-122)
      Bruce Johnson

      It has been argued that sound is one of the oldest ways of defining, encroaching on and enlarging territorial space, of manifesting power. From the war cries of the ancients, to the howling of the urban mob, one of these sounds has been the human voice. Until the late nineteenth century, however, the radius of vocalised space was limited by the body. From the 1870s, for the first time in human history, this dynamic was utterly transformed by the invention of the sound recording and subsequent related technologies. These technologies permitted a spatial increase that has ultimately become global and,...

  7. Part IV

    • 10. Modernity, Intimacy and Early Australian Commercial Radio
      (pp. 123-132)
      Bridget Griffen-Foley

      On its relaunch on 23 March 1936, the Sydney Daily Telegraph declared itself ′thoroughly modern′—as modern as television, wireless and airmail.¹ While it was to be another two decades before television arrived in Australia, broadcasting, in the form of radio, was already an entrenched part of the Australian media and entertainment industries. Marshall Berman asserts that the maelstrom of modern life has been fed from many sources: great discoveries in the physical sciences, the industrialisation of production, immense demographic upheavals, rapid urban growth, systems of mass communication, increasingly powerful national states and bureaucracies, and mass social movements of people.²...

    • 11. Talking Salvation for the Silent Majority: Projecting new possibilities of modernity in the Australian cinema, 1929–1933
      (pp. 133-158)
      Brian Yecies

      This chapter analyses the distinctiveness of the coming of permanent sound (the ′talkies′) to the Australian cinema in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The coming of sound resulted in fundamental, but not uniform, change in all countries and in all languages. During this global transformation, substantial capital was spent on developing and adopting ′modern′ technology. Hundreds of new cinemas were built; tens of thousands were wired with sound equipment—that is, two film projectors with sound attachments, amplifiers, speakers and electrical motors—and some closed in financial ruin during the Great Depression. The silent period ended and sound became...

  8. Authors
    (pp. 159-162)
  9. Index
    (pp. 163-188)