Abstract: The early twentieth century witnessed extraordinary growth in the industrial manufacturing of new music technologies for the home. While musicologists often discuss technologies from this period in terms of new sounds and new modes of performance they introduced, marketing materials for gramophones, radios, player-pianos, autoharps, theremins, and other novel instruments and devices consistently employed a rhetoric that they would perform labor for the consumer. I position these instruments alongside other domestic technologies designed to minimize household labor, such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines. I then turn to consider the conditions under which such instruments and devices were produced, suggesting a relationship between how these technologies were marketed and how they were manufactured that played out along class lines. While the rhetoric surrounding commercial domestic technologies revealed the unwaged labor being performed by white middle class American housewives, it also obscured the waged labor of poor white American women working in electronics factories where those technologies were manufactured.
Clara Latham is Assistant Professor of Music Technology at Eugene Lang College. Her research focuses on the relationship between sound, technology, and labor. She is a 2023 - 2024 member of the Institute for Advanced Studies, where she is working on a book about early twentieth century commercial music technologies in the United States, showing how electronic musical instruments shaped musical labor in this period. Recent articles have appeared in the Journal of Musicology, the Opera Quarterly, and Resonance: The Journal of Sound and Culture.
Co-sponsored by the Department of Music and the CDH.