a blog about culture, sound, music, and technology.
updated occasionally by Nick Seaver.
I collected this set of photos to my hard drive a while ago from somewhere online, but didn’t want to post them because I wasn’t really sure what they were.
I’m now pretty sure they are varieties of sound locators, used during WWI and WWII to detect incoming enemy planes, like this French setup from 1911 (found in an issue of Popular Mechanics):
They are amazing machines, and it is fun to imagine them as possibilities for what our ears could look like if we had evolved with predators we needed to hear 20 miles away in the air. (Pterodactyl-world, anyone?)
The picturesque triple or quadruple sets of horns, looking like gigantic versions of old-fashioned ear trumpets, that are used by listeners for airplanes, are only artificial external ears that can be cocked in the direction of suspected approach, just as a rabbit or a donkey can tun his ears. Only they are more nearly perfect, mechanically, than any animal ear, because they were made to order along mathematically calculated lines, not slowly evolved out of folds of flesh.
During the World War, many blind men, with ears trained to special acuteness in compensation for loss of sight, volunteered for this service in Britain, and it is likely that such sightless soldiers are again helping their companions to locate enemies in the dark.
Poetic stuff for the “Military Science” column of a science magazine!
I’m not as sure about this one or the other smaller one above. Perhaps they’re medical inventions for hearing loss?
If you’ve got any special knowledge about these things, hit me up in the comments!
update: ZS in the comments adds:
The last image, “super-human” devices for interception of German aircraft by the British Army, was referenced frequently by Team 10 architects. Refer to Tom Avermaete’s “Another Modern, The Postwar Architecture and Urbanism of Candilis-Josic-Woods.”
The book is unfortunately “long overdue” at my library, but thanks for the reference! IT was really that last picture that confused me, because it didn’t seem like enough of a setup to actually locate planes with!
update 2: You might also be interested in these sound mirrors, which served a similar pre-radar function, but in a more architectural, concretey way.
update 3: aaaand, even more (perhaps the original source) here! The last picture is explained on the site as a “portable” setup, and you can see its range in comparison to the naked ear here (it’s the “paraboloids”):