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One of One

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Brandan Kearney wrote this great text for the CD “One of one”, (released on Dish Recordings, P.O. Box 107, St. Helena, CA 994574-0107).
“With the attention paid by centuries of inventors to devices falling under the general heading of artificiosa memoria, it’s strange that the means for recording sound –the most evanescent and evocative of sensory stimuli- should have been developed so late in history. As Dr. Michael Beeching pointed out in his “Analogues of human brain function to aspects of the Physical World”, “the materials for the construction of the phonograph had been available for centuries; it is a less complex mechanism than many that were devised in the middle Ages.” Regardless, sound recording is very much a cid of the nineteenth century; to my knowledge, the only conception of a sound-recording machine prior to the 1800’s is that described in de Bergerac’s “Comic History of the Moon (1649)”. ??
Recording cylinder graphophones first became commercially available shortly before the turn of the century; they were thought invaluable for voice training, phonetics and learning of f foreign languages, as well as dictation and other arts of interest to the would be, or larval, amanuensis. Despite the graphophone’s utility to compilers of Voice Albums (a pastime advertised in 1906 as “far more interesting than photography, and less expensive”), recreational use of these machines was somewhat limited; they were often difficult for the layman to operate, and the wax cylinders were exquisitely fragile
The most notable precursor to the Recordio disc is the Phonopostal, a product of the Societé Anonime des Phonocartes. The Phonopostal machine recorded onto discs that doubled as postcards. Unfortunately, the flimsiness and poor sound quality of these discs ensured that neither they nor imitators such as Pathépost were very successful. These matters rested until 1931, when Victor combined a radio with a recording phonograph of negligible quality and offered it to a largely disinterested public.
The lighter needles and piezo-electric pickups developed over the following decade were found to produce excellent results on an aluminum disc slathered with acetate varnish. Later, the Wilcox-Gay Company, the developers of the Recordio disc, pioneered in the use of a vellum paper disc.
Thus the recording phonograph became affordable, easy to use and popular. Those who could or would not spend the money for a machine of their own had recourse to coin-operated disc-cutting machines such as Wilcox-Gay’s Recordio-Gram.
Affordable motion picture cameras and sound recording equipment ushered in an era of self-consciousness. The recording phonograph forced people to become performers in a far more profound sense than did the camera, so easily are emotions given away by a quaver in the voice, or a slip of the tongue.
You don’t have to be much of a romantic to feel there is something more than sound inscribed on these records. Each disc allows one to apprehend something of the pattern of a human life, a life with no less value than one’s own, a life to which one’s is, in fact, inextricably bound.
It’s comforting to exaggerate the time and distance separating ourselves from the people on these recordings; the fact that the actual distance between human hearts is so infinitely makes us desperate to broaden it wherever possible. As with any comfort, however, there is a risk of overindulgence.
Which is why I would hope that the discs compiled here will become precious to you for precisely what they were when recorded, without the facile irony or condescension that time and distance so often engender.
How much you hear in these recordings depends on how much you are willing to hear. Suppose that beneath all the static, all the hiss, there is the trace, however faint, of a heartbeat. And the clock in the next room. And the dog barking three houses down, and the siren two streets over, and the steel mill across the river, and the thunderstorm passing over the next county. All these things are linked with one another, and you are linked with all of them.
I once envisioned Recordio discs as windows allowing voyeuristic glimpses into an enormous apartment building. I mourned the fact that so many rooms were dark and deserted.
With the release of this compact disc, candles have been lit in twenty-three rooms. To burn thee in remembrance until the day when everything take from us is restored at last.
So far Brandan Kearney, amen!
As a lover of these one-of-one records, they will be a returning subject in this blog. But because I find this text of Brandan Kearney so insightfull, and because the CD for which it was written is hard to find, I thought this would make a nice start. To be continued!

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