Thursday, October 17, 2013

The wonder of sound recording

I am writing this because in  my imagination I was thinking about Berliner's recording laboratory in Washington D.C. in 1895.
  As I thought more about it the more I was transfixed on the whole wonder of sound recording.  It has not been with us too long. It only started as a commercial medium around 1889-1890. That commercial medium was seen by perhaps .001% of the general population as it was not something for the general public. It was for all intents a rich man's toy.

 But now as I sit here in front of my laptop computer and type I think of what a different world it was and how this "toy" would transfix humanity.  The term sound recording is most ubiquitous as it is everywhere. We are surrounded by it, we are bombarded by it, we are experiencing it often without even knowing it. We have become jaded to the very essence of it. Can you think of many public places not infused with recorded sound? Be it messages, music, tones, or noise filtering hums.

Sound recording has allowed us to bridge generations, even centuries. I recall having a conversation with another historian and we were talking about how one record existed that Abraham Lincoln would probably recognize the voice. It was the record made in 1898 by Chauncey Depew, who had several conversations with Lincoln in the 1860's. I was thinking of that and saying that here was a recording that would have been recognized by those long dead before sound recording was invented or had become a massive medium.

 I am sure that Lincoln saw Joseph Jefferson on the stage at one time or another. He was traveling in many shows in the 1840's and 50's and I am sure at one time or another Lincoln would have seen Jefferson on stage. Jefferson made records in 1898 and in 1903. This again might be a recording that Lincoln might have recognized.

Adelina Patti sang for the 15th president, James Buchanan in the late 1850's. He was born in the 1790's and I can hear Patti today. Maybe I am an old romantic, but I find that amazing. The historical connections are overwhelming and most unique.

Sound has been captured for us by those long gone from us. But the wonder of sound is that they stay with us. I can still hear Joseph Jefferson, I can hear the voices of some of those who were around during the Civil War. I can hear the song John Browns Body sung by those who were alive when it meant something more than an interesting relic of a byeregone time. The Fab Four will always be young, Caruso will always be singing gloriously and Theodore Roosevelt who did not give a damn about posterity (his words) will forever influence it
 It has allowed us to share history with our grandparents and our grandchildren....For as we live and die, sound recording will go on forever.  I can only imagine what will be thought of these early recordings in the years of the 25th century. Perhaps they will say pretty much the same, but talk about 500 years of sound recording and the wonder of it all.   Just perhaps they may marvel at the fact they can hear the voice of Queen Elizabeth or President Obama. Perhaps hear a TV show or Radio program and try to imagine what it was like to live in the primitive 21st century.   We think we live in a world that is so  advanced, well so were Edison cylinder records and life in 1890.

I remember playing some recordings for operatic basso Jerome Hines and tenor Franco Corelli. I played on a Victrola some recordings of Tetrazzini, Caruso, Melba, Scotti, Homer and Farrar. It was interesting to see them react to the recordings and in one case talk about one of these artists they had known. The recorded sound transcended time and the singers were one with their forebears....

It still happens..

Next time you hear a sound recording and that is almost everywhere, stop and think of the wonder and the history of it all.

No comments: