Panel 1: Globalization, Colonisation, Revolution (Chair: Sejal Sutaria)

The Lancashire and Cheshire Working Men’s  Singing Classes and the Sounds of Chartism
David Kennerley (King’s College London)

For a few years in the mid-1840s, Manchester reverberated to the sounds of huge choirs of hundreds of working-class men and women, participants in a newly-created network of sight-singing classes across Britain’s industrial heartland. This endeavour was initiated and financed by local millowners, clergymen, town councillors and magistrates. This paper explores the motives behind this phenomenon, viewing it as part of a contest over civic ‘sonic identity’. For it is no coincidence that these classes began immediately after the dramatic events of the Chartist-inspired general strike of 1842. Haunted by the sounds of the crowds that had seized control of the streets and mills, Manchester’s men of property and authority sought to reconstruct the region’s ‘sonic identity’ through the disciplined, harmonious sound of the singing class. However, this was far from a straightforward exercise in ‘social control’. As the organisation’s archive reveals, its working-class participants used the classes to pursue their own ends and pleasures, rather than succumb to the middle-class disciplinary agenda. Nonetheless, middle-class patronage remained firm, suggesting that the sound of the classes fulfilled the psychological needs of Manchester’s propertied classes, deeply disturbed by their sonic experience of 1842. The same sounds could therefore mean different things, and carry widely varying political resonances, to different groups of performers and hearers, rendering any simple notion of ‘social control’ through culture hard to sustain. Moreover, it emphasises the immense impact of the sounds of Chartism upon the middle classes, not only in provoking this kind of musical philanthropy, but also in strongly inflecting their affective response to massed vocal ensembles.

Sounds and Senses Going Global in Eighteenth Century Britain
Maria Semi (University of Torino)

‘Sound’ and ‘sense’ can be thought of as absolute entities: measurable, quantifiable (at least in the case of sound), and universal. Up to a certain point in history, this was the common way of thinking about them. There have been mechanistic models, or more psychologically oriented models, but the general idea was that there ‘must be’ a model which would work at all times and for all (unimpaired) people. During the timespan with which we are concerned, a noticeable shift occurs. A growing awareness of the “national properties” of sounds emerges, and of the impact these sounds have on a given audience, because of their “national nature”. Not only the physical nature of sounds is relevant, but also – in Lockean terms – what they are ‘associated’ with by the very person who experiences them.

John Galt and the Sounds of Colonisation
Josephine McDonagh (King’s College London)

This paper concerns elements of sound within the work of John Galt, the Scottish regional novelist, whose ‘genuine homely Scotch’ fiction participated in the early nineteenth century global circulation of Scottish dialect. Galt was also the founder of the Canada Company, a joint-stock company for the development of colonial settlements in Upper Canada, which necessitated his travel to and occupation in Canada over an extended period in the 1820s.   Galt wrote about his work as a colonist extensively in varied writings over the next several years.   The two strands of Galt’s career – as Scottish regionalist writer, and Canadian colonist – have usually been treated in isolation from each other.   Attending to questions of sound, however, reveals a mesh of interconnecting interests that underpins both.   This paper considers how in his regional works from the early 1820s, we can see the emergence of a set of literary techniques which include a sustained interest in sound and the ways in which acoustic phenomena produce social space. This is mostly evident in his selected use of dialect. Later on, in works on colonisation and his experience in Canada, sound will provide a means through which to conjure spaces, create communities, and dominate nature.


Panel 2: Sound, Science, Spectacle (Chair: Ben Steege)

Mary Somerville’s Sound Accomplishments ca. 1834
Kathy Fry (King’s College London)

Mary Fairfax Somerville’s best-selling treatise On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences – first published in 1834 and then revised and republished through a further nine editions – has been widely celebrated in the history of science for its broad public appeal, its unification of scientific disciplines, its descriptive clarity and sublime perspective on nature and the cosmos. In addition to chapters on astronomy, gravity and the atmosphere, Somerville included two chapters on sound and vibration, before addressing the topics of light and refraction for which she is best remembered today. This paper analyses Somerville’s accounts of the latest experiments in sound and hearing, together with her use of metaphors of musical vibration more generally, exploring their relevance for philosophical discourse on the sonorous sublime and ideas of listening in the 1830s. As with many of the leading thinkers and polymaths of the day, Somerville’s identity as a scientist sat alongside her enthusiasm for the fine arts: as well as being a painter she was an accomplished pianist and regular attender of concerts and operas in London and on the continent. Yet the example of Somerville also provides an alternative case study for the current preoccupation with science and musical meaning in nineteenth-century Britain, one that centres less on tropes of scientific showmanship, public exhibition and performance, more on the written presence of sound as an object of knowledge and inspiration.

Tuning In with the Stethoscope in the Nineteenth Century
Melissa Dickson (Oxford University)

When, in 1816, René Laennec sought to overcome his difficulties in examining an obese girl with symptoms of heart disease by rolling an exercise book into a cylinder, placing one end at his ear and the other at her precordial region, he discovered that he could hear the sounds of her chest more clearly than if he had applied his ear directly to her body. Three years later, he published a 900 hundred page treatise on the art of mediate auscultation, filled with descriptions of the various sounds he had detected through use of the stethoscope and the diseases they signified. In its gradual adoption by medical practitioners across Europe and America, the stethoscope, a powerful symbol of modern medical practice, marked, as Jonathan Sterne has observed, an important shift in the Western history of listening, whereby the voice of the patient was no longer the basis of diagnosis but existed in relation to other sounds made by and within the patient’s body. However, this shift in medical listening practices and its associated adoption of new techniques and technologies of listening was a gradual and uneven one. Laennec had brought the inner soundscape of the human body – an invisible realm largely beyond the range of the human ear – not only into medical but also more general cultural awareness, and both doctors and patients struggled to conceptualise and to make meaning of that realm.

This paper will argue that, in Britain, although the stethoscope provided new medical insights into the workings of the body, it was a source not only of practical, social, and professional challenges, but also deep confusion, mistrust, and corporeal anxiety. Music, language, and literature played an active role these early, experimental stages of clinical diagnosis by providing rich conceptual frameworks for the exploration and interpretation of a new auditory realm, while proffering both scientific and imaginative explorations of its potential physical, and at times, metaphysical significance.

Of Sight and Sound, or, Realising The Enraged Musician
Oskar Cox Jensen (Queen Mary University of London)

And the rest of the piece concludes amidst the confusion of drums playing, &c. a girl, with a rattle, little boy with a penny trumpet, old bagpiper, &c. as near as possible to Hogarth’s print of The Enraged Musician. The End. Drop Curtain in the Midst of the Confusion, and the Noise continues some little time after.

George Colman and Samuel Arnold’s 1789 ‘Musical Entertainment’ of Ut Pictura Poesis! Or, The Enraged Musician has not gone unnoticed – by Martin Meisel, Tom Lockwood, Timothy Erwin – but it has gone unheard. In this paper I consider the intermedial experiments between sight and sound that characterised the Romantic period, focusing upon the realisation above: an event that combined spectacle, homage, noise, and composed music, as a means of improving in performance upon a conceit previously rendered in oils, pen, and the etching needle. The effect, I argue, was a self-conscious heightening of experience as achieved through performance: an entertainment that, for the audience, was more real than life, let alone than Hogarth. Though generically innovative, it was rooted in conventions of stage, print, and song, employing aspects of all three to create a greater sensation than any single form could realise. The paper ends in a wider reflection upon the links forged here between representations of reality across these three forms, in turning to a consideration of how the print images associated with previously staged songs allowed for a similarly heightened (though inverted) reception of performance.


Saturday Workshop

Session 1: Power, Interest, Liberty (Chair: Eileen Gillooly)

‘Prophetic Harmony’: Wordsworth and the Sound of Power
James Chandler (University of Chicago)

abstract forthcoming


Pleasure, Pollution and the Prosodic Turn
Rowan Boyson (King’s College London)

abstract forthcoming


Interesting Haydn: Haydn and the London Commercial Soundscape
Nicholas Mathew (UC Berkeley)

In this piece I focus on Haydn’s London experiences of the 1790s and discuss his London music in relation to the history of “interesting art” and the idea of interest in the eighteenth century.  Mostly broadly, I argue that Haydn’s music, and the surviving written records of his English sojourns, bear the distinctive traces of a modern metropolitan landscape and urban commercial environment in which audience attention and desire was newly conceivable in terms of the psychic “investments” of interest – a concept that notably shuttles between what we would nowadays consider economic and aesthetic realms. Looking at Haydn in England ultimately prompts us to rethink the nature of our own scholarly interests — the hidden histories of the currently popular methodological paradigm that aims to resolve its objects of study into networks of people and things gathered together by entangled interests and concerns, and the methodological problems presented by attractively capacious arenas of study such as the “soundscape.”


Session 2: Ecomusicologies (Chair: Emily Bloom) 

Lupus Tonalis
Ellen Lockhart (University of Toronto)

Wolves had been hunted to extinction in England in the seventeenth century, the victims of policies of bounty hunting and the vanishing of the forests. By 1770, the only instances of Canis lupus that remained in England were the brutal and miserable specimens kept captive in the Tower of London and Exeter ‘Change, which housed the Royal Menagerie and Pidcock’s Zoo, respectively. In London ca. 1800 there emerged a new kind of wolf-hunter, the acoustician, who pursued a new kind of “wolf”: the wail or howl emitted by string or keyboard instruments through accidents of resonance. Such “harsh howling sounds” (Grove’s Musical Dictionary) — which came to be called “wolves” in the 1770s — emerged unsolicited from imperfectly tuned perfect intervals. They joined a host of other liminal sonic phenomena that were of interest in the decades around 1800, including interference tones, sum and difference tones (or “Tartini tones”), and natural and artificial harmonics. I consider the attempts by Thomas Young and others both to understand such events acoustically, and to contain or eliminate them in practice. Issuing from musical instruments usually despite the intention of the performer, such sonic events could be understood to constitute the intrusion of the medium on the fine art, making audible its nature as wave. Taking my cue from the analogy implied by the coinage, I consider these musical “wolves” as a species of aggressive predator within the musical ecosystem; tracing their speciation allows us to observe how the boundaries between music, sound, and noise were redrawn during the years around 1800.


The Resounding Fame of Fingal’s Cave
Jonathan Hicks (Newcastle University)

In 1772 Joseph Banks recorded observations on the Hebridean island of Staffa. His most striking “discovery” was a sea cave framed by columnar basalt, which resembled nothing so much as a cathedral. According to Banks, the cave was known by the name of the mythical Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill, or Fingal, to use the Scottish variant made famous by Macpherson’s Ossian poems. The publication of Banks’s findings prompted a small industry of travel writing that combined volcanology with minstrelsy and national history. In 1797, the French geologist Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond published his own research, which suggested the association with Ossian was the result of a simple misunderstanding: whereas the Gaelic for Fingal’s Cave would be “an-ua- fine,” the actual name was “an-ua- vine” or “melodious cave.” Far from settling the matter, Saint-Fond’s intervention added to the mystique. Measurements were taken to document the acoustic effects of the waves, and visitors now arrived with expectations of what they would hear – expectations met, on site, by an enterprising piper. Back in the metropolis, the latest knowledge was incorporated into spectacular shows, complete with the musical markers of harps, pipes, and “Scottish” song. In this paper I ask how the learned literature on Staffa helped to shape a new sort of listening-at- a-distance, one in which the sounds of places became both more enigmatic and more available. The prosthesis of description brought the Hebrides within reach of London ears. Henceforth, Fingal’s Cave would have to be heard to be believed.


Session 3: Speaking and Listening (Chair: Dustin Stewart)

On Tongues and Ears: Divine Voices in the Modern Metropolis
James Grande (King’s College London)

In 1822, Edward Irving arrived in London from Glasgow as minister to the tiny congregation at the Caledonian Chapel, Hatton Garden. This seemed an inauspicious opening, but within a few months Irving had achieved an extraordinary degree of celebrity, lionized by fashionable London society even as he preached – for over three hours at a time – in the uncompromising, millenarian style of a seventeenth-century divine. For William Hazlitt, seeking to explain his popularity in The Spirit of the Age (1825), Irving’s charismatic oratory combined ‘the sacred and the profane […] the carnal and the spiritual […] the theatrical and theological, the modern and the obsolete.’

An impressive neo-Gothic church was built for Irving in Regent Square, but by the time it was completed the preacher was no longer – in the phrase of his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge – ‘the present Idol of the World of Fashion’. In the early 1830s, Irving was charged with heresy, ejected from the Church of Scotland and founded a new Dissenting church. Around the same time, reports began to reach London from a remote church in the Scottish Highlands, under the charge of Irving’s acolyte John Macleod Campbell, of parishioners displaying spiritual gifts. By 1831, Irving’s own congregation had started speaking in tongues. The phenomenon was energetically decried – the Edinburgh Review denounced it as a ‘wild waste of human breath’ – but Irving, describing himself as an ‘ear witness’ to these voices, defended their authority. This paper reads the controversy, a foundational moment in the history of modern Pentecostalism, as an episode in the history of the senses, interrogating the relationship between spiritual voices and the disciplinary regimes of the nineteenth-century city.


To ‘Fill Up, Completely the Whole Capacity of the Mind’: Listening and Attention in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland
Carmel Raz (Columbia University)

In his essay Of the Nature of that Imitation which Takes Place in What Are Called the Imitative Arts ([1777]/1795), Adam Smith famously described the power of instrumental music as stimulating a specific mental faculty: “by the sweetness of its sounds it awakens agreeably, and calls upon the attention [and] by their connection and affinity it naturally detains that attention.” He maintained that these sounds could “occupy, and as it were fill up, completely the whole capacity of the mind, so as to leave no part of its attention vacant for thinking of any thing else.” Over the past thirty years, many scholars have taken Smith’s depiction of the overpowering experience of instrumental music as an early articulation of the listening practices associated with absolute music.

This paper offers a different interpretation of Smiths’ comments. I argue that his approach reflects a distinctly anti-Associationist attitude toward auditory attention shaped by Thomas Reid’s psychology as well as music-theoretical ideas advanced by John Holden in 1770. All three of these thinkers relate auditory attention to specific mental strategies involving selection and memory.  This conception differs from contemporary notions of attention as dependent on astonishment, variety, or interest,  as well as from early Romantic notions of the imaginative transport afforded by instrumental music.  By focusing on specific properties relating to the perception of sound, they hearken in many respects toward modern-day psychological conceptions of attention that are independent from aesthetic concerns.