This essay is about the long-standing and tenacious audile technique of listening past—that is, the discrimination of music, musical performances, and even sound amid the ostensibly broader range of vibrations conveyed by any media form. For some time, an assortment of musicians, sound artists, and theoreticians have lined up to maintain that this cognitive-discursive technique, which suppresses or diminishes the processes of mediation, is in some sense ideological: illusory, contingent, and even exclusionary. Cagean theories of sound, feminist valorizations of embodiment and presence, ecological ethics of the soundscape, tech-focused philosophies of mediation, ethnographic conceptions of aurality, and Deleuzian vibrational ontologies—all are united in their foundational skepticism. Centered on digital transfer of an early electric recording of a performance of Beethoven’s Sixth from 1927 conducted by Felix Weingartner, this essay seeks to reevaluate the political implications of listening past by drawing out its submerged relationships to the traditional historicist project of recovering what I call past listenings—lost modes of listening that are supposedly indivisible from particular spaces, historical moments, and radically situated subjectivities.

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