Monday, July 11, 2016

Last words and shrieks from the grave: recordings that give me the Christly creeps

I wasn't going to add any text to these - they're largely self-explanatory, but just looking at them, let alone listening to them, is so distressing that I have to say something, in the nature of whistling in the dark.

This first one is a distillation of sound recordings from a site called, I think, These are the best, or should I say, the worst of them. I don't know why my mind is so dark, but I must not be the only one or there wouldn't be so many of these things online. I don't know of a person who hasn't at least thought about what it would be like to be in a crash. But to be responsible for all those people. . . The most disturbing aspect, aside from the screams and that sickening crunching noise, is the "whoop, whoop, PULL UP! Whoop, whoop, PULL UP!" alarm that comes on - too late for most of them, as it turns out.

Oh Jesus, God and Mother Macree, whoever she is. These are weird things, an experiment that failed. In 1888 Thomas Edison decided to capitolize on the success of his newly-invented phonograph by implanting a tiny little phonograph in the belly of a horrible doll. And it said horrible things in a horrible voice, but only for a short time - because they all broke. Very quickly. And all the customers wanted their money back. But we still have these hideous recordings, which I assume are original.

I can't really explain or describe the doomsday feeling I get from this recording. It makes no sense - it's just sounds, isn't it? I even know what the original sound was. I remember dial-up (which now seems like the lamest thing ever invented - because it was! You couldn't be on the phone and the computer at the same time.) All these vastly slowed-down recordings are very, very strange. When we think of a recording being slowed down, we think of it getting lower and lower, but it doesn't. It's just endlessly elongated. It takes up more time. And this is like something from Armageddon, the Last Judgement, the trumps of doom. I think it's partly the fact that I do know what the sound is, but it's changed, changed utterly. For some reason I made myself listen to this again last night and had the same queasy, sick dread. It doesn't get better with successive replayings. In fact, it gets worse.

The Volta Labs experimental recordings were another Edison thing. Just a bunch of guys fooling around with very primitive sound equipment. Volta Labs reminds me of mad scientists with frizzy hair, Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, Clyde Crashcup, and that sort of thing, though the comic connection doesn't mitigate the creepiness of the recordings. On one of them, someone appears to say "fuck!", but I didn't include that one. This one is just creepier. It also interests me how much the first recorded discs looked like ugly grey pancakes.

I wonder why it is, when I do not remember World War II, when I do not remember ANY war, that this sound fills me with such primal dread. It is Doom. It is simply the end, and there is nothing you can do. 

And this - this I do not even need to explain. This carved its way into my child psyche during the Cold War, when that awful endless shrill beeeeeeeeeeeep seemed, to me, even worse than the dreaded Bomb.

For a while, the experimental talking clock from 1880 was regarded as "the first recording", but it isn't any more. It was recorded on a cylinder made of lead, incredibly, and it sounds like it. It has its own screechy-whoopy-creepy aspects, and you CAN hear counting in it, though it's hard to make out. Did anyone really listen to this thing? I doubt it ever made the Top 40, and I have no idea where the original resides today. 

Anyone who knows anything about the advent of sound recording knows about the Phonautograph. This French guy who had a name a mile long (de Martinville, I think - unless Martinville was where he lived) just wanted to see what sound waves would look like when traced with a stylus on a moving glass globe. That's all. There was no thought of playing them back. When I first found out that they had found his stylus tracings on some black paper, read them with a laser and actually dragged some "music" out of it, I disbelieved it immediately. It was an obvious hoax.

Back in the mid-'90s, someone tried to pass off a supposed recording of Chopin playing the Minute Waltz which they claimed had been recorded on a similar device. Sadly, it was a fraud. I couldn't even find anything on the internet about this, and still can't, even though I heard the damn thing on the radio. I remember the CBC Radio announcer dismissed it as "a musical Piltdown Man". I'm not sure how I know this, but it turned out to be a CD enclosed with a European classical music magazine which was published on April 1. The catalogue number was something like 425679HAHAHA.

But this ghostly Au Clair de la Lune thing has stood up to scrutiny. At least, no one has stepped forward to admit guilt over it, so it must be real. Some of the air has gone out of it, however.  I note now that when I go on, the web site that originally broke the news to the world, it hasn't been updated in a very long time. It just looks like an ugly and very out-of-date web page, even worse than mine in fact. It's sort of a pre-Blogspot thing - whew, what an eyesore!

When all this first came out, there was a great deal of boasting and braggadocio by the researchers, who had been catapulted to fame by a few pieces of sooty black paper. Now I notice a certain nothing. I guess they haven't found anything new. The few seconds of blurby, garbly "singing" isn't so exciting any more, no matter how much they slice and dice it, play it back at different speeds and with different effects, filters, etc. Hey, you can make an armodillo sound like Pavarotti these days. Another tiny sound snippet isn't even a human voice, but a trumpet that sounds like it's underwater. And a lot of it just reminds me of somebody blowing his nose.

Now this is worse. Far worse. I dug this up a very long time ago, when I somehow stumbled upon the idea that ancient clay pots were natural recording devices. If a rotating glass globe with a stylus stuck on it could record vibrations/waves/actual sounds that could be played back in a few hundred years, why then - why couldn't a rapidly-revolving wet clay pot with a sharp thing stuck into it record all sorts of shit as it rotated merrily away? But only if some guy with a laser came along to winkle the sound back out again.

Meanwhile, this is terrifying.

I tried to get hold of the guy who did this a couple of years ago. His "channel" has two things on it: this video, and a six-second "slide show" depicting one still of this pot. So, hoaxy it is. But still terrifying, for some reason I can't determine.

I mean, I KNOW it isn't real.

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