All lovers of vinyl need to check this out. It’s the audio of the earliest known gramophone recording, which is the grandfather of the modern vinyl record. Sure, Thomas Edison had his cylinders in the 1870s, but Emile Berliner invented the flat version of records in 1887. In the prequel to Betamax vs. VHS, or HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, Berliner’s gramophone disc dominated the recording industry and Edison’s neat little vertical audio cans remain mostly as footnotes in audio history.
The cool thing about this recording is not that the record itself has survived since 1890, but that it doesn’t actually exist. There are no known physical copies. So how does one hear audio from something that doesn’t exist? The Media Preservation Initiative at Indiana University, Bloomington, had found a way to take the photographs of the physical specimens from reference books and advertisements of the time and recreate the audio from those records. The result is discernible audio recordings of speech, song and a voice memo recorded as a test from the inventor to a friend.
But wait, there’s more.
These are not the first recordings ever made, nor are they the first reproduced sound. Edison’s invention was the first to reproduce the sound audibly. But it was “Au Claire de la Lune,” an 18th Century French folk song, which Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville sang slowly into a vibrating diaphragm, that changed music forever. The long tube transferred the sound via hog’s bristle and a piece of a feather into waveforms. There was smoke, a rotating barrel and a hand crank involved. Though the phonautograph was a complicated and temperamental device (well, maybe not compared to an iPod in a WiFi-dead zone), audio could now be captured. And in 2011, a mere 151 years later, archivists have found a way to play it back. The recording was made on April 9, 1860 (before the American Civil War)–marking the birth of recorded sound.
Telephones, speakers, microphones–everything we know about audio today–is based on Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s hog’s bristle and feather recording device. From one audio engineer to another, thanks, brother!
From the first inhale of Trebuchet’s self-titled debut record, I’m hooked. The ukulele like lapping waves of a tropical shore; the surf lead guitar the birds lazily riding the swells. A breath—giving pause, the moment that will make or break the entire album. Sweet voices coalesce in harmonic bliss, one as strong as the next, none overshadowing another. The wave does not crash, it pushes onto the shore, allowing warm salt water to kiss my toes and leave me wanting more.
The six-song, vinyl-only release (it’s also available digitally) was christened with a show at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill last night, with friends and family accompanying on stage and in the audience. Whether by blood or by feeling, all four bands playing on the evening’s bill were related, and the feeling in the audience was that of an unexpected family reunion.
Survival Guide opened the show, who I unfortunately arrived too late to see. You Are Plural introduced a new twist to the duo of Wurlitzer and cello: drums. The percussion filled in some spaces, but since most songs were written without drums, it felt forced at times. But the harmonies and interesting time signatures kept the set flowing and piqued interest throughout the set. The New Trust brought a powerful rock sound to the stage next, Josh Staples’ thundering bass lines commanding attention from even the smoking crowd in the atrium.
I was lucky to see Trebuchet’s first-ever performance, at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, last year. The band impressed the hell out of everyone that night, in part because three of the four members are known for intense, instrumental post rock in the band Not To Reason Why. This was as far from the expected as possible while still loosely relatable to the same genre.
Last night, Trebuchet sounded polished, like a beautiful piece of obsidian after hundreds of years in a river bed. That igneous black rock born of violent eruptions from the Earth’s core, sharpened and used as arrowheads and spear tips, left alone under running water matures into a polished, beautiful stone. I walk toward the sea, wading in up to my hips. The warmth and gentle swaying covers the impending danger of being too far from shore, too far from home. This is the best kind of escape.
Style: Relaxed, Americana instrumentation, four-part vocal harmonies, extremely musical songs, listenable without being boring, beautiful, interesting without being obscure
Comparisons: Sufjan Stevens, Decemberists, what other Portland bands wish they could sound like
Rating: 4.5/5 (Just because the record is only six songs!)
Trebuchet’s debut record is available at www.trebuchetmusic.com.
This week’s Bohemian feature is on Heavy Mental Music, a very amazing, strange record made in 1981 by David Petri and the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center in Santa Rosa. Pictured above is the “deluxe edition,” with a T-shirt, two posters, three stickers, a photocopied booklet, a notepad and two copies of the record, all housed in a hand-designed box. According to Petri, only 50 of these “kits” were made (most copies of the record were sold alone, or given out to strangers on the bus), and at one point, what you see above actually sat on the desk in the Oval Office.
What strikes me most about this record is that it’s completely ahead of its time, both in concept and presentation. Colored-vinyl 7″s, stenciled T-shirts, photocopied lyric booklets and paper Kinko’s stickers didn’t start showing up en masse until around 1991, and the acceptance of incorporating the developmentally disabled into pop culture—the Kids of Widney High, or How’s Your News?—was years away.
The heartbreaking part of the story, for me, is Petri being accused of using the mentally retarded clients of the Manual Skills Training Center to advance his own agenda. In the time I spent with Petri, he seemed like a sincere, caring person who patiently taught the clients how to play drums and keyboards and who happened to be attracted to the aesthetic of artists like Todd Rundgren and Salvador Dalí. Shades of that aesthetic color Heavy Mental Music, and something tells me that if Petri had recorded campfire folk songs like “This Land is Your Land” instead, it wouldn’t have been an issue.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s “Heavy Mental Music,” written by Jim Weber and performed by the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center on Lomitas Ave. in Santa Rosa in 1981:
Click the second file above to hear the obscure but no less compelling B-side,”Tour.”
Well, it only took them ten years, but we take such news when we can get it!
The Magnetic Fields’ brilliant song cycle 69 Love Songs is finally seeing a vinyl release. Spread across six 10″ records, each in a separate gatefold sleeve, the set will be bound with a cardboard slipcover and a large version of the CD version booklet. It should be out
sometime in August April 20, 2010, it’s apparently limited to 3,000 copies, and it’ll cost about $100.
I’ve had a running list of albums that should be on vinyl going for quite some time, and 69 Love Songs has been right up near the top since its release ten years ago. Most record companies in 1999 didn’t see any benefit to releasing vinyl, although Merge Records has always been great about LPs—they even pioneered the LP+mp3 download coupon idea, which I covered pretty extensively here last year. Now if they could just release Crooked Fingers’ Red Devil Dawn on vinyl, we’d be set!
There’s a whole lotta other dream albums out there that would be released on vinyl if there were any sense of justice in the world. Here’s a few from the ongoing wish list. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments below.
Please, Record Industry: Put These Albums Out on Vinyl!
Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
The Boredoms – Seadrum / House of Sun
Los Lobos – Colossal Head
K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher
John Prine – In Spite of Ourselves
James Carter – Chasin’ the Gypsy
Gillian Welch – Time (the Revelator)
The Velvet Teen – Out of the Fierce Parade
Uncle Tupelo – Anodyne
Smoking Popes – Born to Quit
Arvo Pärt – Alina
Steve Earle – Transcendental Blues
Camille – Le Fil
Nellie McKay – Get Away From Me
The Rentals – Seven More Minutes
Don Byron – Ivey Divey
Greg Brown – Over and Under
Bebo & Cigala – Lagrimas Negras
Old 97’s – Too Far to Care
Wynton Marsalis – Live at the House of Tribes
Robert Earl Keen – Gravitational Forces
Knife in the Water – Soundtrack
My friend Jeff over at Waxidermy has just posted some clips from a record made by the Sonoma Valley Jazz Band in 1974, and man, it’s worth a listen. There’s some seriously crazy drums on “Spinning Wheel,” and the arrangements are out of this world for a high school band. Who knew this stuff was happening in Sonoma in 1974?
In related news, the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival has announced its lineup for 2009. Count the jazz artists.