SARAH ANGLISS | Voices of the Dead – Fortean Times Uncon, London, and Edinburgh

Voices of the Dead – Fortean Times Uncon, London, and Edinburgh


  • May 2012


  • Sarah

Edison phonographIn this talk and live demonstration, I explore some of the stranger obsessions of the early adopters of recorded sound, as I immortalise a voice from the audience by recording it on wax, using an original Edison Standard Phonograph. When he first saw the phonograph demonstrated in December 1877, a journalist writing in Scientific American noted there was a now ‘a startling possibility of the voices of the dead being reheard’. Radios, phonographs and gramophones are transmitters of disembodied voices, a feat that seemed so remarkable to the first users, it inspired some unlikely alliances between scientists and diviners of the spirit world. This event includes tales of ventriloquism, fake psychics, memento mori, the 1920s fashion for ‘ghost radio’ and aerial parties.

As seen at: The Fortean Times UnConvention, The Last Tuesday Society and Dorkbot,  London; The Odditorium,  Port Eliot; The Secret Society, Edinburgh; The Catalyst Club, Brighton; The Sage, Gateshead and Fear and Loathing, Newcastle. I also demonstrated phonograph recording on Radio 3 and 4 (for The Haunted Moustache episode of Between the Ears and for Punt Pi).

The video at the top of this page shows a recording made during a talk and demo for the Dorkbot Christmas Party, 2009. The phonograph is an entirely acoustic recording and playback device – it captures and plays back sound with no wires and no batteries.

edison phonograph

Demonstrating the Edison phonograph for Edinburgh Secret Society (photo Gordon Rutter)