What were the towering achievements of twentieth century American culture? Since you’re asking, I’ll make a case for the moon landings (featured here the other day) and for Rhapsody in Blue. This is the original, acoustic recording from 1924, the year it was written. It is said that Gershwin himself was present for this recording, although I think that might be an urban myth. The composer also, in the same year, made a piano roll of the piece which you can buy on a CD or download from the usual sources.
Yesterday’s NASA audio reminded me of something mindblowing from a few years ago. This is the actual sound (several recordings spliced together in fact) of the Huygens probe dropping through the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005. At the time I remember thinking “stone me. Why isn’t this on the news?” As far as I can tell it’s the first natural sound ever recorded out there, off the earth (I’m not counting all the recordings of astronauts chatting, singing the Russian national anthem, dropping spanners etc.). This is sound propagating in the atmosphere of another world. It’s the sound of Titan’s dense – mostly nitrogen – atmosphere rushing past the probe’s external microphones (fitted for that exact purpose).
Turns out there’s a huge archive of raw NASA audio at the Internet Archive. Metadata is incomplete and some audio is missing but it’s all gripping stuff, even the long periods of hum from the ‘high-gain’. And the ultra-laconic language (“we’ve lost Eagle. Stand by”, “OK everybody, let’s hang tight and look for landing radar”, “he thinks we’re a little long, downrange. We confirm that”) only intensifies the tension. This half hour session takes us from the beginning of Eagle’s powered descent to the first landing on the moon and I guarantee you’ll cry when you hear the muted cheer on the right channel when Armstrong confirms the landing.
Adam Bowie is a radio industry exec – Head of Strategy & Planning at Absolute Radio – and evidently a sound junkie. He recorded this lovely storm montage using a pair of binaural headphones/microphones and published it on his blog. I asked him if he’d mind if I republished it here. You’ll need to put your headphones on for the full effect.
Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock for many hours in 1962 for his book Hitchcock. It’s not easy listening – Truffaut’s English was bad so there’s an intrusive interpreter – but this is genuinely gripping stuff. And the glee and surprise in Truffaut’s voice as Hitchcock drops insight after insight is precious (for instance, when he lets on that he really wanted William Holden for the Farley Granger part in Strangers on a Train). You can download all the recordings as a zip file. More about Hitchcock-Truffaut and links to individual interviews on the Film Detail blog.
Thanks to Ian Smith for tipping me off to the recordings.
From WFMU‘s wonderful Free Music Archive, Harry E. Humphrey and the choir boys of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City with “Our National Song” – a rather haunting mix of stirring spoken word and an elegiac choral version of the Star Spangled Banner. From a 1916 Edison Blue Amberol wax cylinder. More information about this recording – and other patriotic 4th of July-type stuff from the archive – on the FMA web site.
Here’s something lovely and strange from NY conceptualist Vito Acconci. A kind of dreamy, uncanny science-fiction/architectural fantasy – like the soundtrack from a 1970s sci-fi movie. You can download the MP3 from the motherlode – Ubuweb, Kenneth Goldsmith‘s wonderful, inexhaustible source of audio (and video) art. I heard it on WFMU, where they play a lot of Ubu content and where Goldsmith had a show of his own for years.
Something marvellous from Ronan Kelly’s The Curious Ear on RTE 1. Eleven minutes on the Cork coast in memory of the last Irish foghorns, now silent. Made by radio student Jason Murphy, for whom I predict great things. Sign up for the exceptionally good Doc on One podcast, which includes lots of amazing stuff from RTE’s archive and all the Curious Ear programmes. Download the MP3.
Rebel radio is probably as old as radio. It’s a cliché that the radio station is always the second target during a coup, the President’s residence being first. Although the cellular networks and the ISPs would be more likely now. Broadcasts from Budapest in 1956, from Prague in 1968 and from dozens of other liberated zones over the decades are important footnotes to the history of liberty.
Now, from Benghazi and Misrata, radio stations are telling the story of the struggle in Libya. I recorded twenty minutes from Radio Benghazi’s UStream last night – a real throwback to the era before the Twitter uprising. It’s sonically fascinating and a bit random – a montage of stuff from the tape library, by the sound of it – some of it rather mournful, some patriotic (if you speak Arabic, put me out of my misery). Also, it sounds like the stream’s owner is piping through the AM transmission from off-the-air – an unexpected collision of old-school terrestrial transmission and IP streaming.