History of fieldwork technology

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  • Field notes result from a kind of “mental recording”, which is transferred to words, symbols, sketches, diagrams, and musical notations on paper as quickly as is practical.
    • This "low tech" solution remains central to ethnographic fieldwork, not only because it is inexpensive, but also due to its flexibility and its automatic incorporation of the fieldworker's own interpretive competence, intelligent information reduction. For example, in transcribing an interview or melody we think about what's really important.
    • Thus the irony: less information is often more information.
  • Nevertheless, the scientific' study of culture was completely transformed by the advent of recording technology, particular for "culture" that is evanescent, immaterial, intangible - such as performance in all its flavors, including music.
  • Such technology initially centered on two sensory fields: hearing, and vision.
  • The “scientific” study of music was advanced by technology enabling recorded sound and image, by turning the intangible into the tangible, enabling careful study and encouraging comparison through such representations that could be juxtaposed, and were seen to form a "collection".
  • Similarly mechanical recordings of sound and image advanced the study of culture generally in related fields.
  • One of the founding events of ethnomusicology was Edison’s development of the phonograph in 1877 (recorded and played back from cylinders) followed by Emile Berliner’s invention of the gramophone in 1887, with an antecedent in Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s record-only phonautograph invented in 1857 (http://www.firstsounds.org/).
  • Still image technology was developed in the 1820s and 1830s, first by Nicéphore Niépce, who developed the earliest photographic process, the heliograph, and Louis Daguerre who developed the daguerreotype
  • Nascent motion picture technology emerged in France with the Lumiere brothers, whose first film was screened in 1895.
  • (NB: All of this technology resulted from an era of European scientific advancement, itself predicated not only on the Enlightenment, but on an era of global travel and discovery, and the resources subsequently made available from global imperialism and colonialism (especially free labor from the despicable slave trade), factors that ironically also gave rise to new directions in social science, including anthropology and ethnomusicology.)

What is recording technology? In recording we transform (transduce) physical waves (sound and light) emanating from the field then preserve them in physical media for longer-term storage. The past becomes imprinted on the future. Ironically it may be the low tech (Sumerian clay tablets, LPs) which last longer (than floppy discs, or CDs...)

Over time recording technology has rapidly developed in three often converging directions: