Sunday, December 23, 2012


"[Patrick] Feaster gathers from throughout history depictions of sound waves and alternative sound recording methods, some from before Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1877, others simply different means of capturing sounds, and presents them along with illustrations and the stories of their creation. Even better, these images, figured Feaster, "could be 'played' just as though they were modern sound recordings," and set to do just that.  He was right, and the result is a fascinating, haunting and indeed defining, new work....  The CD is a surreal listen with 28 tracks sequenced to be heard while reading the book. Lost voices rise up, theoretical tones designed by conjecture and imagination jump out of history. 

"On track six, Feaster conjures sound from a photo in an 1898 advertisement for a "Zon-a-Phon." He took a high-resolution scan of the record in the ad, then, he writes, "converted it into a series of parallel lines" that he was able to transform and "unbend" using Photoshop. The result is a man's voice from 114 years ago. His name is Chauncey Depew; he was a politician who stumped for Abraham Lincoln and ended up a senator. He was also a noted after-dinner speaker, and this is one of his talks. He sounds like he can barely break through the past, the portal is so tiny"
-- LA Times' Randall Roberts on  Dust-To-Digital's Pictures of Sound: One Thousand Years of Educed Audio: 980-1980

When I first read about this (Mark Pilkington had a piece in the Scott Walker issue of The Wire) I did think it sounded like the ultimate hauntological come-on: pandering to our archeological fever for the oldest, the earliest, the most ancestral and precursor-y and ahead-of-its-time-y... to our dead media/steampunk lust for the olden days curiosity, for technological paths never taken and alternative history scenarios...   My suspicions were aroused because (as with the Depew example, which reminds me of Blow-up)  many of these aren't recordings in any real sense, but imaginative constructions based on the barest of traces.

Still, consider me successfully (s)educed: I am mighty curious to hear it. 

  Blurb from the Dust To Digital Site:

Using modern technology, Patrick Feaster is on a mission to resurrect long-vanished voices and sounds—many of which were never intended to be revived.

Over the past thousand years, countless images have been created to depict sound in forms that theoretically could be “played” just as though they were modern sound recordings. Now, for the first time in history, this compilation uses innovative digital techniques to convert historic “pictures of sound” dating back as far as the Middle Ages directly into meaningful audio. It contains the world’s oldest known “sound recordings” in the sense of sound vibrations automatically recorded out of the air—the groundbreaking phonautograms recorded in Paris by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in the 1850s and 1860s—as well as the oldest gramophone records available anywhere for listening today, including inventor Emile Berliner’s recitation of “Der Handschuh,” played back from an illustration in a magazine, which international news media recently proclaimed to be the oldest audible “record” in the tradition of 78s and vintage vinyl. Other highlights include the oldest known recording of identifiable words spoken in the English language (1878) and the world’s oldest surviving “trick recording” (1889). But Pictures of Sound pursues the thread even further into the past than that by “playing” everything from medieval music manuscripts to historic telegrams, and from seventeenth-century barrel organ programs to eighteenth-century “notations” of Shakespearean recitation.

In short, this isn’t just another collection of historical audio—it redefines what “historical audio” is.

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