A portion of my Sound Collage performance from 2008, recorded at the U MN, Sixth Annual Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Arts. I was using my Ancient Mix-Master. A two turntable, three tone-arm DJ case from the late 1930’s, and an Echoplex.
“This event featured performances, installations and lectures by internationally recognized creators, scholars, and performers of new media art and music.”… and I was there too. Performers were invited to submit ideas for papers for the lecture series. Much to my surprise my idea was accepted and I had to quickly write “Sound as Object”. It was somewhat politely received by the assembled academics.
Sound As Object – AKA Am I My Mix?
The 19th century rhythm of the water wheel and grind stone turned into the bang and scream of the factory as the industrial revolution was born. The 20th century began with a piston and an electric spark and closed with the hum and click of a computer.
For over 130 years there have been recorded sounds available for purchase. The recording industry is just that, an industry. With the introduction of commercial cylinder recordings in 1887, people could, for the first time, hear a piece of music of their choice at a time of their choice in a location of their choice.
Transistor radios, Walkman’s, iPods, now mean that everybody who chooses to can create their own mix for any activity for anytime of day. This is my workout mix, my morning drive mix, my laundry mix. No longer dependant on the DJ, or the multi-disk changer, everyone can make their own mix. Soundtracking their lives themselves.
Cylinders and flat discs were the first mediums of recording technology that gave rise to the recording industry. Its purpose was and still is to find, make and own the sounds that the consumer would identify with and want to hear over and over. Thus began the process of trying to fill an insatiable appetite for new sounds. And more importantly, a market wanting and willing to buy all these new sounds.
Not only the music that they wanted to hear, but where and when they wanted to hear it. Desktop media centers that could be taken from room to room, house to house, or literally be played in a field. These early cylinder players were a phenomenon that exceeded all expectations. Sales were great and both prerecorded cylinders and blanks rolled off the shelves.
The ability to buy and record music was developing around the same time that the advent and development of radio was going on. And although we can’t be certain, I think we can be pretty sure that there were groups of independent kids working in their garages with the crazy ideas of putting the first radios in their cars. No easy task when you consider that these early radios weighed between 15 and 40 pounds, which was about 1/3 of what their battery systems weighed. Mobile sound of your own choice was beginning.
Having music, news and information at the push of a button and the warming of a tube must have seemed like magic. All of a sudden voices and music, reports from across town or around the world were available to everyone who had a radio. I believe this had a larger and more significant impact on a societal level, than the advent of the internet. Telephones allowed people to communicate faster than horseback, which until the advent of electricity and trains had been the fastest form of communication for thousands of years. Radio allowed a shared societal experience for those limited by geography. Recorded material allowed the populace to listen to a song whenever they wanted. Musicians became cultural icons to people who never would have heard or heard of them.
The music industry has thrived with the production and distribution of their product, the audio object. From cylinders to the flat disks to the advent of wire and later magnetic tape recording. Cassettes, reels and 8 – tracks. And for a while, the 12-inch vinyl disc was challenged but not replaced by the 4 3/4-inch plastic disc. But the world has changed again. Music is now available without a physical medium to present it. The industry is freaking out. People are still listening to music; more music than ever before actually, except the industry is losing control. More importantly for them, they are losing control of the money.
Sound – If no one is around to hear it does it exist?
Recorded sound – If no one is around to consume it, does it exist?