"Phonography in Transit: Naples and New York"
Delia Casadei, Assistant Professor of Music
Gavin Williams, Music Research Fellow, Kings College
Tuesday, September 18, 12-1:30pm
Part of the Global Urban Humanities Colloquium The City and Its People, Rhetoric 198-3 / ARCH 198-2, Rhetoric 244A / ARCH 298-2
Sound reproduction technology—the phonograph, the gramophone—was multiplicitous at the turn of the twentieth century: a rapidly globalizing cultural technique, it had many imagined uses, including transcribing speech, ethnology, phonological study, and musical entertainment. Within this tangle, this colloquium sets out examining the becoming-musical of machinery, homing in on a productive connection between Naples and New York.
Delia Casadei and Gavin Williams chase after two musicalized voices: one swelling, impressive, and prestigious; the other cut, intermittent, and contagious. On the one hand, they track Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso in his movements through New York, focusing on his arrest at Central Park Zoo. Now widely hailed as the singer who first made the gramophone a medium viable for music, the reproduction of Caruso’s voice relied on techniques of distributed personhood, given impetus by an early 20th-century sex scandal. On the other hand, Casadei and Williams follow the Neapolitan fortunes of George W. Johnson’s Laughing Song. In Italy as elsewhere (though with distinctive regional meanings), recorded music’s early markets thrived on the commodification of vocal techniques—especially laughter, which theatrically and purposefully shattered individuality and personhood by mimicking the workings of the phonograph itself.