Physical evidence from the record’s groove, as well as extraneous noises – surface crackle and fizz, and, audible within the recording, the swish of a turntable – seemed to indicate at least two rudimentary overdubs, in which the output of one acoustic horn was relayed into a second, possibly using an auxetophone, an early compressed-air amplifier.All this resulted in a double- or triple-layered sonic artifact.Authenticating detail helped to underpin this sense of an absent real made present.
–Walter Murch If you want to listen to the past, there’s never been a time like the present.
Every year, it seems, new old recordings are identified, new techniques developed to recover sounds thought irrecoverable.
The bongs, plops and whistles seemed internally inconsistent.
Some of the artillery sounds – ostensibly a battery of four, firing in quick succession – varied implausibly with each successive firing.
Listen to a 1915 German descriptive speciality, depicting the attack on the fortress of Liège the previous year: by it.
The bullet hole does not look much like a bullet; thunder is lightning’s trace, not its likeness.
Very little is known about these early media artworks, but it is a fair generalization to say that in America the genre was more slanted towards vaudeville comedy, whereas in Europe, imperial and military scenes predominated.
As early as 1890, for example, there had been German phonographic representations of battles from the Franco-Prussian war. Scholars are just beginning to take an interest these old phonographs; here’s one recent essay on the “Angel of Mons,” for example, a British acoustic vignette of a famous incident on the Western Front.
An acoustic artifact is a compound of materiality, form and meaning, but also a place where technology meets desire.
Old recordings meet the listener’s longing halfway; they invoke a reality always out of reach.
One expert on pre-electric recording noted the angles commanded in firing instructions, correlated them with known muzzle velocities for 4.5 and 6-inch howitzers, then used this and other information to “definitively” explain the counter-intuitive anti-Doppler sound of the shells’ whistling.