“When forced to leave my house for an extended period of time, I take my typewriter with me,” once wrote essayist-humorist David Sedaris. “Together we endure the wretchedness of passing through the X-ray scanner. The laptops roll merrily down the belt, while I’m instructed to stand aside and open my bag. To me it seems like a normal enough thing to be carrying, but the typewriter’s declining popularity arouses suspicion and I wind up eliciting the sort of reaction one might expect when traveling with a cannon. ‘It’s a typewriter,’ I say. ‘You use it to write angry letters to airport security.’” But Sedaris, one of the last high-profile hold-outs against electronic word processing, wrote those words almost fifteen years ago — even before airport security really cracked down in our post-9/11 reality. Surely he has since picked up and presumably learned to use a computer. We now find ourselves in an age when typewriter usage has transcended the status of an act of nostalgia and attained the status of an act of rebellion; if you insist on using a classic old Underwood Remington, or an Invicta, or a Continental Standard, or Olympia Monika Deluxe, well, you must really have a statement to make.
Yet I daresay that for all their mechanical heft, freedom from internet-borne distraction, and thoroughly analog aesthetic appeal, typewriters bring with them a number of burdens. We have their difficulty in clearing TSA lines, yes, but also their thirst for physical ink and paper (“I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed,” said Sedaris, “at least I took a few trees down with me”), and their noise — oh my, their noise. You can hear the varying sounds of 32 models belonging to many successive typewriter generations in the video at the top of the post. They don’t come as straight recordings, but as sounds reproduced by mouth to perfection by that one-in-a-million mimic Michael Winslow, best known from the Police Academy movies as Sergeant Larvell “Motor Mouth” Jones. “The History of the Typewriter Recited by Michael Winslow” originated in the mind of Spanish artist Ignacio Uriarte, who, according to Frieze, “has employed standard office supplies such as Biros, highlighters and jotters,” not to mention “the ubiquitous spreadsheet tool Microsoft Excel, perhaps soon facing its own obsolescence.” This production “tellingly culminates with the sounds of a machine from 1983, the year before the arrival of the first home computer with a graphical interface.” Which leads one to wonder: can Winslow do hard drive noises?
We’ll definitely add “The History of the Typewriter Recited by Michael Winslow” to our collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.