Friedrich Kittler has described the discourse network of the later nineteenth century as effecting a conspicuous separation of the different sensory and mediatic channels, splitting apart the spontaneous cross-sensory concourse of eye, hand and ear at the beginning of the century. But he also shows that the later years of the nineteenth century are also characterised by a kind of conversion mania, as inventors and engineers sought more and more ways in which different kinds of energy and sensory form could be translated into each other. That one of the most important imaginary diseases of the fin-de-siècle was the condition known as ‘conversion hysteria’ is perhaps a sign of how far-reaching this enthusiasm was for the idea of translated energies and outputs. This essay considers the nature and significance of conversions between sound and vision from the late nineteenth century onwards, first, in the rendering of sound in visible forms, and then in the more contemporary enthusiasm for the ‘sonification’ of various kinds of phenomena.
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