Sound Reasoning

So once upon a time, this fellow invented a method for recording sound. He called his apparatus a phonograph, and it recorded onto a cylinder of wax. He thought about using a disc, but for his purposes, a cylinder was better.

See, his purposes involved getting one of these in every home. Why would anybody want a sound recording device at home? So as to record family members, friends, and any celebrities who wandered close enough to the contraption to be induced to say a few words. Some of his advisors suggested that people might buy pre-recorded cylinders of music or jokes, and he allowed as how they might, at that. But the MAIN reason a person would buy a phonograph was to make permanent records (remember this word; it features in the plot) of beloved voices. Home recording on a disc was complex, but a cylinder made the process easier. (This has to do with lateral recording vs. hill-and-dale recording, and, really, there’s only so much space in this blog. Take his word for it.)

Mr. Edison’s vision (yes, it was good old Tom, as you knew at the outset) was that the phonograph would sit in the parlor. The Victorian parlor was filled with entertainments for passing time on a Sunday afternoon. Photographs of one’s loved ones and/or heroes could be browsed in the family photograph album. Friends and relatives wrote silly jokes or poems over their autographs in the family autograph album. Tom felt that you might spend an afternoon listening to greetings from friends recorded via the phonograph: these recordings naturally sitting in the family phonograph album.

And that, dear children, is why we call something that involves several recordings an “album”. Isn’t that fascinating? Well, not every hit is a home run. What’s that, Cyril? Why is a record with two songs on it called a single? I hate to break this to you, Cyril, but if you remember a record with two songs on it, you’re a little too old to be in our class. Don’t slam the door on your way out.

Yes, it’s the time of year when I tear myself away from all those books about The Girl Who Kicked The Cat Who, and start pricing records for a couple of hours each day. It’s a restful occupation, and very refreshing. In the world of books, I am confronted each day by books published in 2012, or 2013, or other ridiculous numbers. But I almost never find LPs released in 2012 when I’m locked away in the vinyl vault. In fact, virtually every record I priced yesterday was older than I am.

I can see it’s going to be another banner year for the record hunter. Two-thirds of the records I saw yesterday were also records I had never heard of, not even suspected. Did you know there was a service you could subscribe to which would send you a full-length LP of discussions of religious topics every month (the Conference-a-Month Club)? Have you ever run into a series of albums called The Franciscan Recordings? I have one album of press conferences from the election of Pope Paul VI, and there is a sound effects record which uses one side of the record just for street sounds in Rome. (The other is street sounds in Madrid; I wonder if you could digitize these and listen to both sides at the same time, to compare.)

Now, not every collection this year came in from a convent, so we will have the requisite number of copies of the Grand Canyon Suite, the New World Symphony, and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. We will certainly have Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream, the soundtrack of West Side Story, and Carole King’s Tapestry.

But a whole album of songs dedicated to the town in Poland where John Paul II was born? Not even Thomas Edison could have guessed we’d be selling that.

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