The Tape Recorder and The Pre-Recorded Voice as Figured in Documentary Media.

Patrik Sjöberg (Karlstad University, Sweden)

The importance of the portable magnetic tape recorder for the development of the various documentary movements in the post-WWII era is by now well documented. Its’ easy to use, no-fuzz operation allowed, not only for the directors of Direct Cinema and Cinéma Vèrité, but also for other documentary related projects to be realized. This paper discusses the way the taped pre-recorded voice, or the archival testimony on magnetic tape, refigures in the contemporary documentary work. The works discussed in this paper are all films that highlight the presence of, not only the pre-recorded voice, but also of the apparatus of the tape recorder itself, and, at the same time, the listening subject. Shifting the focus from the seen to the heard, these films not only want to redirect and expand our attention from what is said to also include how it is said, they furthermore draw attention to the historical instant and conditions under which the statements and testimonies were made in the first place by deliberately figuring the tape recorder within the frame of the work. The discussion features key scenes from films like: Suitcase of Love and Shame (2013), by Jane Gillooly; Censored Voices (2015), by Mor Loushy; Thin Blue Line (1988), by Errol Morris, Listen to Me Marlon (2015), by Stevan Riley, and Nixon by Nixon (2014), by Peter W. Kunhart, and several others. These examples will also be placed in contact with a handful of experimental works of sound art, and, most importantly, Samuel Beckett’s play from 1958, Krapp’s Last Tape.

Selected bibliography

Connor, Stephen, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, Oxford, OUP, 2001
Kane, Brian, Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice, Oxford, OUP, 2014
LaBelle, Brandon, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art, London, Bloomsbury, 2006
LaBelle, Brandon, Lexicon of the Mouth: Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary, London, Bloomsbury, 2015
Ochoa Gautier, Anna Maria, Aurality: Listening and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Colombia (Sign, Storage, Transmission), Durham, Duke University Press, 2014
Sterne, Jonathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003
Voegelin, Salome, Sonic Possible Worlds: Hearing the Continuum of Sound, London, Bloomsbury, 2014

Patrik Sjöberg is Assistant Professor in Cinema Studies at Karlstad University in Sweden. He is the author of The World in Pieces – A Study on Compilation Film, Aura Förlag, 2001, a contributor to several anthologies on documentary culture (most recent in A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film, ed. Alisa Lebow and Alexandra Juhasz, ‘Face Blind: Documentary and the Subversion of Surveillance’, 2015), as well as articles and essays in Swedish and English. His research seeks out the shared space between documentary film and other related fields, in particular the avant-garde and experimental film, art, and media culture. He is currently working on a book on speaking subjects in documentary media and sound art.