Today, knowledge concerning the relationship between temperature and musical pitch shapes many dimensions of Western musical practice, from the ambient conditions of performance sites to the design of musical instruments, and performers’ routines and techniques. But the history of how temperature came to play such a defining role in musical cultures remains unexamined. This article lays the foundations for such work by approaching musical instruments as sites of negotiation between acousticians, instrument makers, and players on the one hand, and music's variegated environments on the other. First, the article shows that the conceptualization of pitch in relation to temperature was a by-product of nineteenth-century international negotiations over musical standardization. These debates reveal that, while assessing the relation between pitch and temperature may seem like a decisive step toward the regulation of musical frequencies, in fact it was the source of countless epistemological and sociopolitical problems. Next, the article turns to David J. Blaikley, a British maker of wind instruments, whose experiments on the influence of extreme temperature variations on army-band instruments revealed the limits of Western attempts to control sound on a global scale, including in colonial contexts. Finally, I trace the implications of this new awareness of the interplay between sound and the environment to expose the silent ways in which that awareness continued to inform Western musical practice into the 1940s and beyond.

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