The history of recorded natural sound is often posited as beginning with the capability for humans to record actual animals in their environment, but in fact this was a departure from the widespread and quite popular practices that preceded such technological developments. Because sound recording technologies were confined to studio spaces and were generally immobile, popular performers adopted a variety of imitative techniques to transport listeners into scenes and settings that the technology itself could not access. The most popular of these imitative techniques was performance whistling. This essay traces historical developments in the cultural attitudes surrounding whistling through its musical and nonmusical associations with a variety of “others,” including animals, African Americans, homosexuals, and the working poor. It also traces how white professional performers drew on American environmental attitudes and the rhetoric of “nature” and “the natural” as a way to distance themselves from these stereotypes and establish themselves as legitimate artists and educators. These whistling practices present a new way to hear the history of recording technologies, identity politics, and the American environmental movement.


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pp. 4-15
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