JF Ptak Science Books LLC 663
Making solid the concrete part of musique concrete has never looked quite so orderly as in this image, found in the wonderful The Illustrated London News for 10 August 1929, and depicting a device that would provide "sound effects" for silent motion pictures. The electroacoustic organ was constructed at the very tail end of the Silent Film Era, with simultaneous sound-on-film just having been invented (in 1925), and popular films just starting to be made employing it. The control over the range of incidental, everyday and forgotten sounds seems to be extraordinary, and extraordinarily presented on that fantastic organ, providing an acoustic landscape against which move-goers could watch their film.
It seems like a lot of technology to bring to bear to enhance silent pictures with the sound of wind or the clopping of a horse’s hooves. But not so, really—accompaniment to silent films was usually and simply musical, with the occasional actors employed to speak lines ere and there. The introduction of incidental sound was something new—and it was almost immediately something old with the introduction of the talkies, like a new dimension of achromatic experience.
What would be very interesting would be to hear a library of
such effects from so long ago, with noises produced by the stuff that has
slipped into the past and, sometimes, right out of memory. The sound of the milkman’s bottles; the
clatter of the ticker tape; a standard gauge locomotive slowing
iceman’s truck; the P.A. system at
Antiquarian sound is interesting, whether it is the actual early recordings
of events or objects long passed, or recording made recently of antique objects
making their modern antiquarian sounds. Found
sound is good too—the ordinary, forgotten stuff that blends into the acoustic
fabric of the day, undifferentiated because of heir common nature. There are a number of interesting Sound Zoos/Sound
Museums available online, one being the wonderful London
There is also the very interesting Documentary Sound site, which is an index and pointer for other sites. http://wlt4.home.mindspring.com/adventures/documentary.htm For example, the owner of the site lists the following fantastic-sounding title from the documentary sound releases by Smithsonian’s Folkways series: Voices of the Sky: Propellers and Jets (1957) Sounds of the American Southwest (1954) Sounds of Animals (1954); Sounds of the Annual International Sports Car Grand Prix of Watkins Glen, N.Y. (1956); Cable Car Soundscapes (1982) F-6129; Here at the Water's Edge: A Voyage in Sound-NY Harbor Documentary (1962) F-6161; Sound Effects, Vol. 1: City Sounds recorded by Tony Schwartz (1958) F-6170; The Sounds of London (1961) F-5901 ; Documentary Sounds (1962) F-618 ; Speech after the Removal of the Larynx (1964) F-6134; Sounds of Insects (1960) F-6178; Ionosphere (High Altitude Sounds) (1955) C-501 ; Sounds of the Junk Yard (1964) F-6143; Sounds of Medicine (1955) F-6127; Sounds of the Office (1964) F-6142; Sounds and Ultra-Sounds of the Bottle-Nose Dolphin (1973) F-6132; Sounds of Sea Animals (1955) F-6125; Sounds of the Sea, Vol. 1 (1952) F-6121; The Voice of the Sea (1954) C-5011; Sounds of a South African Homestead (1956) F-6151; Voices of the Storm (1957-58) C-1077; The Sounds of Camp: A Documentary Study of a Children's Camp (1959) F-6105; Sounds of a Tropical Rain Forest in America (1952) F-6120; The Complete In Fidelytie: Sounds Natural and Un-Natural (1956) C-1044; Sound Patterns (Natural, Musical, Human) (1953) F-6130.
A darker, disturbing and tough place
to visit is http://soundportraits.org/on-air/execution_tapes/,
which houses execution tapes and recording of the last statements of condemned
men. The tapes are from the mid-1980's, and have a very grainy, ethereal quality to them--interviews take place with the condemned men in their cells, making their last public statements; there are also recordings of the actions in the command center as the execution area is readied, and also, lastky, in the death chamber itself, when the final designations are read to the condemned. (There is no actual recording of the death sequence.)