‘The Oracle of Delphi’: Talking Statues, Lip-Syncing, and Magic

The 17th century Jesuit scientist Athanasius Kircher devised a statue he playfully called the ‘Oracle of Delphi’. John Glassie describes it in his pleasant work A Man of Misconceptions: 

“To make it, Kircher removed the acoustical tube from the wall of his cubiculum and installed it in a similar recess between the college courtyard and the museum; it was then connected by progressively smaller hidden tubes to a hollow statue…

‘Because the orfice of the shell meets with a public place,’ Kircher explained, ‘all the words of men coming from outside into the spiral tube produce themselves drawn within the mouth of the statue.’ As a result, the tubes could be ’employed in playful oracles and fictitious consultations with such artifice that not one of its witnesses was able to discern anything concerning its secret construction.'”

What one hears is coming from something one does not expect. A couple centuries pass to reveal another ‘Oracle of Delphi’. The 1990’s hit “The Power” by SNAP! includes a music video with a woman lip-syncing the hook. But the woman in the video is not the same one on the track. That is Penny Ford’s voice on the other end, not Jackie Harris’.

We draw up countless tubes that connect one end to another. A talking statue pales in comparison to what is now accessible: lip-syncing, orchestras that come from tiny keyboards, rock concerts that project from tablets. These devices are comprised of networks of tubes, software and hardware alike, creating an effect similar to Kircher’s talking statue.

Those who witnessed the ‘Oracle of Delphi’ thought that it was actually possessed by a ‘latent demon’. If sound and vision can be manipulated with such mastery, music can come out of anything. In contemplating such a future in 1928, Paul Valéry compared this ubiquity to a sorcerer’s palace full of singing furniture. Such stupefying artifice might as well be magic

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