Sound Artifacts: Histories and Futures

Sound Artifacts: Histories and Futures

A scientific instrument called the Ear Phonautograph is being adjusted by curator Tom Everrett. The image is tightly framed and set over the curator’s left shoulder.

Project Description

What can museum artifacts teach us about the sounds of the past? What happens when we study objects with our ears as well as our eyes? How have sound technologies influenced us over time — and where will new sound-related innovations lead us in the future? 

The Sound Artifacts: Histories and Futures project investigates our changing material world from the perspective of sound. The project unites a growing body of work at Ingenium, taking sound as a starting point for thinking about the design, use, and influence of technology in our lives. 

Using the connection between the past and the future as a common thread, the project examines historical artifacts to provide context for future developments. Conversely, it also looks to future technologies — or our visions of what comes next — to reinterpret past objects and experiences. 

Central to Sound Artifacts is a focus on experimentation and collaboration: exploring unconventional, sound-based research methods, experimenting with innovative digital tools, and working with students, external partners, and community members to generate new insights and perspectives.

The ongoing outcomes of the project — including museum exhibitions, blog posts, research publications, video profiles, and more — can be found below. You can also access more frequent updates by following Ingenium curator and Sound Artifacts project lead Tom Everrett on Twitter (@CommTechCurator).


Project Outcomes
 

A wide shot of the Sound by Design exhibition taken from visitor’s perspective; several musical artifacts are visible inside hexagonal display cases.

Exhibition: Sound by Design

Sound by Design showcases some of the most important – and exciting – innovations in sound technology over the past 150 years.

Learn more about the exhibition

Blogs

Research publications

Video profiles

Audio Visual
 

Curator Tom Everrett — a white male in his late 30s — is standing beside the Sound Analyser. He is wearing a pair of blue artifact-handling gloves.

 

Text on screen: Tom Everrett, Curator, Communications.

Everrett: This here is a Koenig Sound Analyser, made by Rudolph Koenig in the 1880s in Paris.

 

Everrett: What’s so amazing about this machine is that it allowed scientists, for the first time, to do something they couldn’t do before, which was to make something invisible — sound waves — visible, so that you could actually study sound, as it happened, in real time, using your eyes as well as your ears.

Camera moves to a close-up view of the artifact, and pans slowly upwards from bottom to top.

Everrett: As you rotate this mirror, the flames start to appear as a single line or a single streak across the mirror.

The camera returns to a shot of Everrett standing next to the Sound Analyser. Everrett turns a handle to rotate the artifact’s four-sided mirror.

Everrett: And depending on which resonator is resonating at that time — which harmonics are in the sound — those particular flames will start to jump and dance on the mirror.

Everrett stops spinning mirror and points to where different flames will appear on the mirror when flames are lit.

Everrett: And that tells you which one of those resonators, which one of those harmonics, is actually being activated by that particular sound.

 

Everrett: So artists would then draw those sounds out, and draw what was appearing on the mirror, and that was their record. So they could start to study the different harmonics that appear in different sounds.

 

Everrett: Ready?

A close-up view of the artifact, where flames on the mirror are now lit. The background room is darkened.

 

Everrett’s colleague, curator David Pantalony, is standing off-screen left with a handheld organ pipe.

Pantalony: Go, yeah.

Everrett rotates the four-sided mirror at an increased speed; his face is illuminated by the bright flames. The organ pipe, played by Pantalony, appears on the left side of the screen.

 

Text on screen: David Pantalony, Curator, Physical Sciences and Medicine.

[The sound of organ pipe being blown to produce a note (G).]

 

Pantalony: Oh, we got it, see? The G.

Light streaks take on the shape of sound waves across the mirror.

[The sound of the organ pipe blown harder, increasing in pitch.]

Light streaks continue to react to the sounds produced by the organ pipe.

Pantalony: You see organ pipes are really rich in harmonics. That’s why the whole thing is lighting up.

 

[The sound of the camera operator, off-screen, singing alongside the organ pipe (same note of G), which slowly increases in pitch.]

The camera zooms in closer on the mirror.

Pantalony: This is the best one ever I’ve tried.

 

[The sound of the camera operator singing in a slightly higher key (B flat), while the organ pipe is being blown (in G).]

A slow motion view; the shapes of sound waves appear more clearly in the mirror.

[The sound of the organ pipe being blown in G, then increasing in pitch.]

 

[The sound slowly fades away.]

The screen slowly fades to black.

 

The Ingenium logo appears, animated against a white background.

 

The Ingenium logo disappears and is replaced with Ingenium’s web URL, IngeniumCanada.org.

 

The Ingenium URL disappears and is replaced by a Canada logo.

Audio Visual

[Quiet, ambient music begins playing and continues throughout the video.]

 

Everrett: Hi, I’m Tom Everrett, Curator of Communications at Ingenium, and I’m here with our recent reconstruction of Alexander Graham Bell and Clarence J. Blake’s 1874 ear phonautograph.

Curator Tom Everrett — a white male in his late 30s — is standing in the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s Sound by Design exhibition. The ear phonautograph is sitting on a tall, circular table to his left.

Everrett: The ear phonautograph works by channeling sound wave vibrations, made by speaking into the mouthpiece, into the ear canal of an excised human ear.

The camera pans across the ear phonautograph from different angles.

Everrett: Vibrations from the ear drum are then passed onto a stylus which then etches the shape of those vibrations onto a moving plate of smoked glass.

 

Everrett: Bell’s original goal for the instrument was to use it as part of his controversial and ultimately failed deaf speech training program called “visible speech.”

The camera returns to a shot of Everrett standing next to the ear phonautograph.

Everrett: However, it’s best known today as the instrument that gave him the technical insight he needed to go on and invent the telephone in 1876.

 

Everrett: Sadly, the original ear phonautograph no longer exists, which is why we decided to build this reconstruction — using a 3D printed ear — to give Canadians the opportunity to see it in person for the first time.

The camera pans across the ear phonautograph, showing different close-up angles of the object.

Everrett: As well as to give ourselves the opportunity to see what might be learned by physically recreating a lost object that, for over a hundred years, has existed only in historic images and writing.

 

Everrett: If you want to see the ear phonautograph it’s on permanent display in the Sound by Design exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

Camera returns to shot of Everrett standing next to ear phonautograph.

 

The Ingenium logo appears, animated against a white background.

[Ambient music fades into silence.]

The Ingenium logo fades away, and is replaced by a Canada logo.

 

The Canada logo disappears and is replaced with Ingenium’s web URL, IngeniumCanada.org.

Outdoor portrait of curator Tom Everrett

Dr. Tom Everrett

Curator, Communications Technology
teverrett@ingeniumcanada.org
Twitter/Instagram: @CommTechCurator