Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik

Zentralinstitut der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The Trigonometry of Image and Sound 

Friedrich Kittler

In the context of the research project as a whole, a study that includes sounds and their digitalisation, as well as images and their digitalisation, is an exception because sound has never acted as a media of science, unlike the image, script and number. However, there are two reasons why the technological histories of linear perspective and tempered musical frequency should be seen as running strictly parallel to each other. Firstly, the distinction between them disappears under the technical universality of digital signals processing in computerised conditions; secondly, modern mathematics formalised optical phenomena with the same trigonometry as that applied to musical waves. This subproject is interested in this very relationship between an essential mathematicalisation, which resulted in a distinction between the arts in European modernity and those in other cultures, and a modern technicisation that has succeeded in converting these arts firstly into analogue media and ultimately into digital media. Drawing on this distinction, we can hypothesise as to the reasons for this fundamental separation, which since Kant has juxtaposed a philosophical aesthetics of linguistic exegesis with a physical aesthetics of measurement. Such a hypothesis could, by negative reasoning, contribute to bridging the gap between mathematics, computer science and cultural studies.