Sound infrastructures of the German Democratic Republic: renewing sound technology during state socialism
Ó Callanáin, Cormac
This thesis analyses the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) efforts to create and maintain modern sound technology infrastructures to deliver culture to its citizens. Analyses of GDR heavy and hi-tech industries and the state’s cultural policies have been key to understanding how state socialism functioned and how it interacted with the world beyond its borders. However, while the intersection of the technological and cultural spheres was no less integral to state socialism, it has been less well served in academic discourse. Tracking the development and application of sound technology in the GDR from the immediate post-war period to the state’s eventual demise uncovers revealing narratives of perpetual change across the GDR’s nationalised broadcasting and recording industries, provoked by unique political, economic and technological convergences. The technological infrastructures that supported cultural media in the GDR were initially restored from the remnants of pre-war structures, but technological developments in the West brought rapid transformation.The mid- to late-1950s were particularly convulsive as the GDR weathered the loss of its main radio broadcasting centre to Western encirclement and the gramophone record industry collapsed due to the arrival of the vinyl record. The infrastructures that emerged from this period synthesised established commercial and sound technology practices with new ideological priorities, tempered by material and economic limitations. These new infrastructures had substantial success over their lifetimes, but were also vulnerable to the deficiencies of the wider GDR economy. Interactions between the GDR and both Eastern Bloc and Western sound industries were thus critical to the survival of the GDR’s native industries. GDR institutions consistently attempted to negotiate and improve their own capabilities while leveraging their strengths to develop commercial relationships that could compensate for areas of comparative weakness. A period of relative technological stability from the 1960s to the late 1970s led into another period of technological upheaval as microelectronics and digital technologies were integrated into sound technologies. A long-term project to develop digital sound technology confirms many criticisms of the GDR’s straitened electronics industry, but also indicates how the GDR had workable plans to maintain its sound infrastructures into the next century. This thesis uses representative case studies taken from some of the most tumultuous periods of the GDR’s existence to demonstrate how ideology and technology became entwined in the GDR’s sound infrastructures. It relies on the records and writings of sound technicians and audio institution administrators to relay how well-understood forces in the GDR’s history materially impacted diverse areas of sound technology development and implementation. It also demonstrates how the continuous renewal and re-conceiving of sound-related practices, facilities and technologies in the GDR mingled with the state’s economic situation, Cold War political factors and socialist ideologies concerning culture and technology to produce unique technical outcomes.