Friday, March 28, 2008

Smoke Gets In Your Ears

Oldest recorded voices sing again

An "ethereal" 10 second clip of a woman singing a French folk song has been played for the first time in 150 years.

The recording of "Au Clair de la Lune", recorded in 1860, is thought to be the oldest known recorded human voice.
A phonograph of Thomas Edison singing a children's song in 1877 was previously thought to be the oldest record.
The new "phonautograph", created by etching soot-covered paper, has now been played by US scientists using a "virtual stylus" to read the lines.

"When I first heard the recording as you hear it ... it was magical, so ethereal," audio historian David Giovannoni, who found the recording, told AP.
"The fact is it's recorded in smoke. The voice is coming out from behind this screen of aural smoke."

The short song was captured on April 9, 1860 by a phonautograph, a device created by a Parisian inventor, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville.
The device etched representations of sound waves into paper covered in soot from a burning oil lamp.
Lines were scratched into the soot by a needle moved by a diaphragm that responded to sound. The recordings were never intended to be played.
It was retrieved from Paris by Mr Giovanni, working with First Sounds, a group of audio historians, recording engineers and sound archivists who aim to make mankind's earliest sound recordings available to all.

To retrieve the sounds scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California made very high-resolution digital scans of the paper and used a "virtual stylus" to read the scrawls.
However, because the phonautograph recordings were made using a hand-cranked device, the speed varied throughout, changing the pitch.
"If someone's singing at middle C and the crank speeds up and slows down, the waves change shape and are shifting, Earl Cornell, a scientist at LBNL, told AP.
"We had a tuning fork side by side with the recording, so you can correct the sound and speed variations."

Previously, the oldest known recorded voice was thought to be Thomas Edison's recording of Mary had a little lamb. The inventor of the light bulb recorded the stanza to test another of his inventions - the phonograph - in 1877.
"It doesn't take anything away from Thomas Edison, in my opinion," Mr Giovannoni told Reuters.
"But actually, the truth is he was the first person to have recorded [sound] and played it back."

The new recording will be presented on 28 March at a conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections at Stanford University in California.

This Reuters article is courtesy of BBC News.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Joseph Arthur - One In Five

Joseph Arthur often operates beneath the radar both of what is fashionable and what is friendly, but not strictly by choice. In spite of the many accolades afforded to him by critics, including "Number One Album of the Year" in Newsday and Entertainment Weekly's "#1 Record of the Year," (both in 2000), the dark overtones on even his most accessible songs have left him room for very little commercial success. Not even flattery in the form of covers by contemporary artists such as Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Peter Gabriel has been enough to get Joe's name mentioned among their own. He seems eternally destined to be "the guy who wrote that 'In The Sun' song."

A glass-half-full kind of fan revels in the idea that this best kept secret remains hidden after all this time and that it's never hard to get a ticket to one of Joe's shows. But in truth, his relative obscurity is a great poverty to fans of modern music, considering that Joseph Arthur has consistently been the finest singer-songwriter in rock for the past ten years or so. He broke his string of clever, quirky solo releases with 2007's "Let's Just Be," an uneven but worthy collection of raw and unfiltered rock tracks recorded with his new band, The Lonely Astronauts, and I can't help but wonder if he himself is starting to tire of his underground status. If nothing else, the disc proved that his singular talent translates well even into a group collective, but that the man is better focused as a solo artist.

Which makes his calendar for 2008 such a tantalizing affair. He has a new ep slated to be released at the rate of one per month from now through June, with a new Lonely Astronauts following in August. Could We Survive is the first of the bunch and hits the shelves and mail-stream today. It boasts Jen Turner (Natalie Merchant, Lonely Astronauts) on guitar, but flagship track "Walk Away" hints at a return to the textured, acoustic vibrancy that worked so well on Redemption's Son.

Crazy Rain is the next ep and it's slated for an April 15th release, so save some of that tax refund, and keep an eye out for a future post where I'll review all four eps together.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Gutter Twins - Cross Your Fingers And Make Amends

After years of singing about self-destructive habits, illicit sex, and setting things on fire, it's difficult to imagine Greg Dulli as having any Catholic guilt left to spend, but you don't even have to listen to the songs on Saturnalia to see where the album finds its center. Song titles such as "Idle Hands," "God's Children," and "The Stations," (as in, the stations of the cross) reveal a great deal about what is on Dulli's mind these days. If it's difficult to tell whether he's reveling in, or simply revealing his own dark, personal experiences with these high-minded concepts, that's likely because the former altar boy isn't quite sure himself.

But this is hardly a one-man show. The Gutter Twins is a project born out of the cigarette ashes of The Twilight Singers, with whom Mark Lanegan (former Screaming Trees singer) was an occasional guest, and he is in full form here. While the gravelly and grave-like vocalizations of this co-conspirator might at first seem at odds with Dulli's plaintive wails, experiencing the album in full reads like some impressionistic life-study set in Dante's Inferno, with our plucky pair of anti-heroes shooting for the first circle but pretty much having run of the whole joint. Lanegan's own lethargic menacing might imply that he's more comfortable with the idea of reigning in Hell rather than serving in Heaven, but it's worth remembering that the album is named after the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, in which the servants and the masters reverse their roles for a brief moment in time. Just for the laugh, of course.