Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Dissected Listening: A Media History of Georgian Polyphonic Recording

From 1916 to 1966, scholars in Austria-Hungary and the Soviet Union repeatedly experimented with recording technology in order to capture the musical traditions of Georgia, a region of the South Caucasus, which regained independence in 1991. Each of these recording projects attempted to isolate the three vocal parts of Georgian polyphony—multipart singing—through a variety of means including wax cylinders, discs, and magnetic tape. Anticipating and paralleling the development of multitrack recording techniques in Western Europe and North America, the history of these experiments raises several questions: Why did the experience of hearing Georgian music demand such a media-technological response? How did polyphony—an elusive category even in musicology—come to define Georgian music? And what does it mean to listen polyphonically? In my dissertation project, I attend to the archive of these media experiments, bringing them into conversation with histories of European music theory and with the work of recording engineers in Georgia today, where studio practices seem to promote the combination of voices rather than their separation. Blending historiography and ethnography, I argue that scientific and evidence-based regimes of listening have set the terms by which the music of an entire nation continues to be heard. Through these techniques, moreover, an ideology of Western modernity becomes manifest in the act of listening to peripheral Others—here, the harmonious voices of a not-quite-European culture in the Caucasus. Through the singular case of Georgian music, the cultural technique of polyphonic listening and recording comes into view not only as a major influence on Georgian music scholarship and practice, but as a powerful vector for the colonizing of sound and space in the twentieth century.