The Center for American Music is proud to introduce 2018-19 Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Eric Dienstfrey. In addition to ongoing research and writing, Dr. Dienstfrey is teaching a graduate seminar course called “Music, Sound, Technology”. Here is a brief Q&A with Dr. Dienstfrey about his background, interests, research, and upcoming work at CAM:
Alan Retamozo, CAM TA – Welcome to UT Austin and the Center for American Music. Can you tell us a
little about your musical background, both personal and
Eric Dientsfrey – I studied music theory and piano in college. At the time I was
enamored with composers like Ives, Ligeti, and Stockhausen, and I
hoped to become a professional pianist. Those dreams never really
materialized. Instead, I began to compose musicals, two of which
premiered at the New Line Theatre in St Louis. They were playfully
based off the atonal compositions of Arnold Schoenberg, and sadly they
never made it to Broadway. Since then I’ve turned my attention to the
history of music technologies, from microphones, to encoding
processes, to amplifiers.
AR – What is your primary area of research?
ED – Broadly, I study the history of sound technology and sound media. My
dissertation looked at the early history of stereophonic sound.
Specifically, I examined the conceptual origin of three-dimensional
soundscapes and their implementation in motion pictures. I’m
currently revising this history into a monograph. Additionally, I
recently completed a book chapter on the theatrical release of
Forbidden Planet, and an article on the development of a controversial
acoustical standard nicknamed the “Academy Curve.” Both pieces are
slated for publication in the near future.
AR – Can you tell us a little about the class you’re teaching at UT this fall?
ED – I’m teaching a seminar called “Music, Sound, Technology” which
investigates some of the bigger concepts in the field of sound
studies, such as the social construction of fidelity, perceptual
coding, and deafening. Over the course of the semester, the class
draws upon these concepts to consider how music technology and musical
performance practices have co-evolved. One of our recent readings, for
instance, asks if violin vibrato became a popular ornamentation in
music as a result of early recording technologies and the acoustical
limitation inherent to violin reproduction during the early twentieth
century. This question sparked a productive discussion, and it is one
that the class will return to throughout the semester as we delve into
the history of audio engineering and the invention of new musical
AR – What are you most looking forward to in your time as post-Doctoral
fellow this year?
ED – I’m looking forward to quite a bit actually. The concert schedule
looks amazing, and I’m hoping to attend as many performances as
possible. I’m also looking forward to spending some time in the
archives on campus. An important motion picture sound engineer from
the 1940s has a handful of documents at the Harry Ransom Center, so
I’m excited about reading through those papers. Similarly, one of the
key innovators of a noise reduction process known as “third-octave
equalization” taught physics here at UT during the 1960s, and I am
dying to immerse myself in his technical notes—presuming, of course,
that I can decipher the scientific jargon. Mostly though I’m just
excited to be around smart people, and UT has quite a few.
AR – Thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk with
me. I’m very much looking forward to your work here at UT and Center
for American Music.
ED – It’s been a pleasure talking with you. I am thrilled to be here at the
Center for American Music!