VOICES OF THE DEAD - The Evolution of Recorded Sound (Leaping Fox)

Sometimes, I get interested in something audio-related, and begin researching it...then, I start collecting, converting, and piling up files...then, I find myself cleaning up, declicking/denoising, and remastering these files...then, before I even know it, I'm making artwork, and I have another Leaping Fox compilation to share on this blog!
A recent interest was the history of recorded sound: did it begin with Edision? A long while back, I posted a couple of "oldest recording ever" files on this blog, and it was pointed out to me in the Comments that there were more to consider. Mark my words: what follows is the worst sound quality of any disc you will ever download here--but also the most historically important. I've done my best to improve each track (and some are just beyond help), and many are dramatically improved.
What follows are some unofficial liner-notes for this disc. Interested parties are encouraged to mine the Internets for further information. Oh, and before we get started, the rather morbid title actually comes from a quote from the Scientific American in 1877, when Edison provided them with a live demonstration of his new invention. This quote is included in the artwork, too.

1-5) PHONAUTOGRAMS: 1859-60
In the 1850's, a Frenchman with about seven names invented a device whose sole purpose was to make a physical picture of sound. The Phonautogram had some sort of diaphragm that moved when you spoke into it, and vibrated a bristle, which in turn made marks on a piece of smoked paper (or later wax, I believe). Anyhow, the whole point was to illustrate that sound had a shape, but it's important to point out that these recordings (a loose term here) were not meant to be played back...indeed, it wasn't possible, until a few years ago, when some clever scientists figured out a way. The result is less than stellar, but how many sounds from BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR have you heard today?
Meanwhile, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, and sort of forgot about it for a while during the development of the incandescent lightbulb. This clip is from a speech he gave in the 1920's, retelling the famous first words he recited, about Mary's lamb. Strangely, I read on two sites that his first recordings--done on tinfoil by the way--did not survive, and could not be played very many times anyhow, yet I was surprised to find the snippet I put at the end of this track. The owner claimed it was the real 1877 recording, but I am prone to believe it could easily be a re-enactment from a childrens' record or something. At any rate, it helps us imagine that breakthrough day in 1877.
Here's a strange track. Edison sent this guy to record the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad in New York City, because of local noise complaints, and use the Phonautograph (maybe Edison's version?) to chart the noise level. Why is this important? Because technically, it's the first "recorded" American sound in existence. You have to use your imagination to really hear a train here...sounds like crap to me.
1878 was a busy year in sound development. Meanwhile, this guy was trying to develop a talking clock (which supposedly used a disc instead of an Edisonian cylinder), as if a clock wasn't complicated enough on its own. Right in the middle of this recording, you can hear him listing off the times ("four o'clock, five o'clock, six...") and then the recording returns to what sounds like avante garde Yoko Ono sound collage.
So, from the late 1870's until the late 1920's ( ! ), Edison cylinders were the primary method of recorded entertainment. After that--well, there was the Great Depression--but after THAT, an explosion of technology began, resulting in the insane abilities we have today. What still amazes me was this factoid I read: the wax cylinders were difficult to reproduce beyond 20-30 times, and singers and comedians would often hang around, recording numerous takes of the same material over and over!
There were thousands of cylinders produced, and this last chunk of material shows you what some of the popular recordings of the day were like. It includes a 4,000-voice choir with the first music ever recorded (Track 9), military band songs (Track 17), vaudeville routines (Track 18), Big Band songs (Tracks 19, 21, 24), and lots of speeches from famous figures. Some were commercially available, such as Florence Nightingale, and Teddy Roosevelt's dull but squeaky ramblings, and some were personal messages to Edison--who thought his phonograph would revise the art of letter-writing--such as the one from Sir Arthur Sullivan. Other famous figures you will hear from include P.T. Barnum, Robert Browning (who can't remember his own poem), and the first U.S. President ever recorded (that survives today), Benjamin Harrison. There's a fascinating store demo cylinder called "I Am the Edison Phonograph," as well as a rare personal message recorded by Edison himself about our boys that came home from World War I.

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