The Panacousticon: By Way of Echo to Freddie Rokem


  • Caroline Wilkins



sound theatre, acoustic art, phenomenology,


The impulse for this essay came about as a direct reaction to reading Freddie Rokem’s contribution in Volume 1 of this journal. Whereas Rokem refers to eavesdropping scenes in plays and philosophical discourse, I shall examine this act within the context of an acoustic mechanical theatre invented by philosopher Athanasius Kircher in the 1600s.

The Panacousticon was a system of spiral-shaped funnels hidden within walls that were operated as amplifiers, connecting public spaces to the eavesdropper via ‘talking heads’ or stone busts. An audience witnessing the deeds of Polonius or Orgon in classical theatre was replaced by an auditor of unseen ‘performers’ in the act of conversing. The ‘closet’ in Hamlet was replaced by a stone bust with gaping mouth. Furthermore, Rokem’s discussion of the supernatural as an eavesdropping presence in the same play, finds an echo in Kircher’s acoustic theatre, where the talking busts began to speak as people passed by, creating an uncanny mise-en-scèneof omnipresence.

Whilst Kircher performed his conceptual creations through theatrical techniques, his actor-audience was subject to the sonic address of an unknown source. With passing references to natural magic, ventriloquism and automata I shall discuss the convergences that occur between these two perspectives of performer / audience.

Author Biography

Caroline Wilkins

Independent composer/performer/researcher Dr. Caroline Wilkins comes from a background of new music performance, composition and theatre, and has worked extensively on solo and collaborative productions involving these. Her particular interest lies in creating new forms of presentation, whether in the field of inter-medial sound theatre, sound poetry or performance art.


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How to Cite

Wilkins, C. (2016). The Panacousticon: By Way of Echo to Freddie Rokem. Performance Philosophy, 2(1), 5–22.