Synchronization as a Sound-Image Relationship

2 What the Phonograph Does for the Ear

In the second half of the nineteenth century, processes were developed and devices built that enabled sounds and moving images to record themselves over time and then be played back: gramophone and film.[6] These technical audiovisual media could be called the materialized theory[7] of the separation of the senses[8] or the eye and ear becoming autonomous in the nineteenth century, in that they refer to particular knowledge of the specificity of the individual senses and implement this in the difference in their technical functioning.[9] Because their difference is related in particular to their temporal functioning, a production of sound-image relationships based on these media presents itself as a problem of simultaneity.

Between 1888 and 1895, Thomas Alva Edison and William Kennedy Laurie Dickson conducted various experiments based on the idea that it was possible to devise an instrument which should do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, and that by a combination of the two all motion and sound could be recorded and reproduced simultaneously.[10] Following on these experiments, it can be traced how the Kinetograph and the Kinetoscope became increasingly independent from the phonograph[11] because the interconnection of image and sound equipment poses a problem that is similar to one still found today in audiovisual media. The phonograph must move continuously and, because the variation in speed is immediately reflected in audible pitch fluctuations, it has to operate as evenly as possible. The cinematographic principle, on the other hand, is based on the chopping up or discretization of motion into individual still images, which in rapid sequence are perceived as continuous motion. The film is stopped for the duration of the exposure and then, with the shutter closed, jerkily transported to the next image. Due to this difference between continuous and intermittent drive, the direct, rigid, mechanical connection of the two devices, for example via a shared axis, is impossible.[12] Thus, a precise temporal correlation of sound and cinematographic image, their synchronization, requires a kind of mediation or translation operation. [Dickson Experimental Sound Film] (ca. 1895) is to be regarded within the context of these early experiments by Edison and Dickson.

Rheinberger, Experiment, Differenz, Schrift, 1992, 22f. He cites Gaston Bachelard, Der neue wissenschaftliche Geist (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1988), 18. Rheinberger only uses this phrase in a context in terms of the history of science. However, to me it seems appropriate to use it here for media history.  

Timelines:1800 – 1900