mr. mittens (akmed) wrote,
mr. mittens

" his master's voice"

a harvard educated clavichord playing serial murderer.the cocteau twin's song 'blue bell knoll'

(misidentified as by the thompson twins).and the history of banking taught by an englishman in a church.

that is the dream that woke me up.

but most importantly for anyone who likes music- happy birthday to the phonograph- the, literally, 'sound writer'! the wheels of steel, the decks, the victrola, the gramophone (last 2 are trade names), the hi-fi, the record player, the thing you never learned to mix properly on so thank fucking god for cds, the record changer, the turntable, the talking machine. generally entirely credited to american thomas alva edison, the patent for his recorded tin cylinders was applied for in 1878 although discovery was claimed in 1877. many probably know his ' mary had a little lamb' recitation as being one of the first things he successfully recorded and, most importantly, could play back. he recreated it in 1927 which, frankly, doesn't count. because of the wonder of computer nerds, we can now hear french 'recordings' that predate edison by almost 20 years- recordings the creator never imagined he could 'hear' or playback.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville was a french book seller and printer who created the phonautograph as a way to study acoustics. he was actually interested in forms of stenography that is accurate reproductions of human speech. using glass and later paper covered in lamp black as the medium, a horn was used and a bristle to 'etch' the sound waves. no instrument was created to actually reproduce these images- he never expected to. his patent was applied for in 1857. his earliest tests were first ' heard' in 2008 after his paper phonautograms were scanned into a computer program which was able to recreate digitally the ' sounds'.

this clip is now thought to be played at the wrong speed. the voice is probably a man's, de martinville himself, singing 'au clair de la lune'. i suggest requesting it next goth night. it's a hit! it's also the first known sound recording ever- april 1860. move over edison, there's a new MC in town, Funky Fresh Frenchy DeM , master of the mike, bringer of da noize.:

of course, edison's discovery is still so very important. early rooms were set up- phonograph parlors- where for a nickle you got to hear your requested cylinder- probably the same fucking rammstein or wolfsheim or vnv nation (or whomever you crazy kids are listening to now) song over and over again. some things never change. considered a lab experiment it wasn't until the late 1880's,with the development of the wax cylinder, that edison's invention gained widespread popularity and began to be used for the dissemination of popular music. few of the early recordings are by professional stage musicians and singers,as most instruments sounded like crap and women's voices in particular did not reproduce well. the biggest sellers of the early music industry as we know it were by a black man who was possibly born a slave-george w. johnson.

johnson was part of the great migration north in the aftermath of the failed reconstruction of the south. he had an extraordinary ability to whistle in perfect pitch and took to being a street performer in nyc. a new jersey phonograph company , the director of which had heard johnson on the streets, dragged him in to record as whistlers and those with deep, loud voices recorded particularly well.

it goes without saying that this was an incredibly racist time even in the north among people who would have been highly opposed to slavery-they were a generation removed from it. there was however a country wide romanticism of the antebellum south and it's happy, smiling slaves singing their 'coon songs' for the amusement of their patrician white masters. minstrel shows existed and were popular. while we find the self deprecating, grotesquely racist content of such material appalling, it is this very type of song that whites of the time were most taken with, 'always bringing a shower of nickles from white folks'. the two largest selling wax cylinders of the 1890's were george w. johnson's 'the laughing song' and 'the whistling coon'.

both were recorded over and over as only a handful of cylinders could be produced at a time directly from the recording horns of several machines. the performer got paid each time he went in and recorded. for nearly a decade johnson's 2 most famous cylinders were the two biggest hits across the country.there was no attempt to hide the man's race- his photo was seen on promotional materials and on sheet music.he was the first black recording artist and originated two of the era's biggest successes . because of our modern distaste for the tone of the material, george w. johnson's talent and achievement have largely gone unheralded.

all god's children have a's important that we take time to listen to our past and place it in context.the reproduction of sound is one of the technological miracles that created our modern age and shaped our culture. so often it seems we've lost our sense of the magical qualities of so many things we take for granted. but i still, for one, when i find some old 78 take it home , clean it and play it can be filled with wonder. it's like talking and listening to ghosts. there's so much to be learned and that's always magical.


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