Voices recorded on wax at QEDCon
I’m back in Brighton after performing at QEDCon, a festival of talks and performances exploring science, technology and skepticism. Thanks so much to the organisers and volunteers for making the weekend run so smoothly – Stephen Hiscock and I had a fine old time.
Those of you who saw my talk ‘Voices of the Dead’ might enjoy this video. It features the voice recording I made on wax during the show, using an Edison phonograph. You can hear three voices. The first is Helen Chorley, reciting a poem, and the last is me, signing off. If any of you can pass on the name of the plucky individual who talks between Helen and me, I’d be really grateful.
First demonstrated in 1877, the Edison phonograph is an entirely mechanical device, the first machine which could record and play back sound. As it uses no electronic amplification, people have to speak loudly with very good diction, directly into the phonograph horn, to make an intelligible recording. It’s fascinating to hear how contemporary voices take on a harsh, clipped quality – a sound we associate with Victorian speakers – when they’re recorded on this machine. Men tend to sound alarmingly like old colonels, women like Queen Victoria. Experimenting with an original phonograph, I realised how much the stereotypical ‘Victorian voice’ is down to the recording process, rather than the way anyone used to speak.
Voices from QEDCon 2012 recorded and played back on an Edison Standard Phonograph from c1904. Thanks to Colin Uttley for the camerawork.
Some research notes on the Bird Fancyer’s Delight and the use of birds as sound recorders in the home (along with a link to my BBC Radio 4 documentary on the theme).
The voice of Florence Nightingale (the original cylinder is now in the British Library).
Juice for the Baby – Spacedog album which includes a variant of the piece Stephen and I played at the end of the show.