Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Creepy, creepy stuff

I just realized that throughout my adult life, I kept trying to forget about "Sonovox", the miraculous sound phenomenon of the 1940s. Until just now, I didn't know exactly how it was done, maybe because I didn't want to think about it at all.

But now I just found out. 

Here is what it said on a music site dedicated to sound aberrations: "You could make just about any musical instrument 'talk' with Sonovox.  The sound of the instrument was fed into two small speakers placed on the sides of the throat. Those sounds were transmitted to the larynx, so that they came out of the throat almost as if they were produced there." Thus if you shoved speakers blasting the sound of a clarinet against your larynx and mouthed the words "scoobie doo", you'd have a "scoobie-doo-saying" clarinet. The miracle of the ages.

I don't know why this didn't seem to bother people then, but the Sonovox produced the most ungodly spectral whining sound.  Really, it's impossible to describe, except to say that it is not quite like anything else you've heard, or would want to hear again. The only thing it remotely resembles is the robotic vocal effect of autotune. Most of the instruments don't sound like themselves at all. They just sound weird.

I've been here before, I know I have. I've suffered from Rusty poisoning. This was the recording I was required to listen to ad nauseam as a child, so that I could be indoctrinated into the Joys of Classical Music. I listened to it again recently (for old recordings never die - they just keep getting reissued), and it was, if anything, worse than I remembered. This recording was probably the first widely-known use of the Sonovox, and it became a sensation. Or at least, it wouldn't go away. The different instruments whined and gulped and sounded like bees trapped in a bottle. Most of what they said to Rusty was unintelligible, in spite of the slow robotic way they said it.

I don't know why the people who invented this didn't realize, or perhaps care, that their invention was incredibly creepy and that they would be scaring little children and making it impossible for them to sleep. (Or was it that Civil Defense "this is only a test" thing on TV?)

But to find out that others had used or abused Sonovox - or their listeners - was quite a revelation to me, a painful one, because then I sort of had to listen to some of it. It gave me flashbacks. 

This must have been some kind of fad. People must have gee-whizzed over it. There is a talking guitar on YouTube that is so bad, I won't subject you to it here (except for the silent gif above), but people loved it back then. They loved it so much that they completely dropped it a few years later. Disney used Sonovox as the voice of Casey Junior, the circus train in Dumbo, but he only says "all aboard" in a not-too-obnoxious way. 

All the same, trains aren't supposed to talk.

(Rusty outtakes)

Rusty: the REAL story!

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