Conserve the Sound, an Online Museum Preserves the Sounds of Past Technologies–from Typewriters, Electric Shavers and Cassette Recorders, to Cameras & Classic Nintendo

The unmistakable zip and whirr of a rotary phone, the ungodly squeal of dial-up modems, the satisfying thunk of a cartridge in a classic Nintendo console, a VCR rewinding, the click-clack sound of a Walkman's buttons…. I date myself in saying that these sounds immediately send me back to various moments in my childhood with Proustian immersion. The sense of smell is most closely linked to memory, but hearing cannot be far behind given how sound embeds itself in time, and most especially the sounds of technologies, which are by nature fated for obsolescence. A museum-quality aura surrounds the Walkman and the first iPods. These are triumphs of consumer design, but only one of them makes distinctive mechanical noises.

As analog recedes, it can seem that noisy tech in general becomes more and more dated. It is hard to hear the rubbing of thumbs and fingers across screens and touchpads. Voice commands make buttons and switches redundant. How much tech from now will one day feature in Conserve the Sound, the “online museum for vanishing and endangered sounds”?

Its collection gives the impression of a bygone age, quaint in its dozens of examples of mechanical ingenuity. The visual juxtaposition of handheld film cameras, typewriters, car window handles, electric shavers, boom boxes, stopwatches, and so on has the effect of making these things seem all of a piece, assorted artifacts in a great hall of wonders called “the Sound the 20th Century.”

At the top of the site's "Sound" page, timeline navigation allows users to visit every decade from the 1910s to the 2000s, a category that contains only two objects. Other displays are more plentiful, and colorful. The 1960s, for example showcases the incredibly sexy red Schreibmaschine Olivetti Dora further up. It sounds as sleek and sophisticated as it looks. The virtual display case of the 30s holds the sounds of a twin-engine propeller plane and a handful of beautiful moving and still cameras, like the Fotokamera Purma Special above. It also features the humble and enduring library stamp, a sound I pine for as I slide books under the self-checkout laser scanner at my local branch.

Given just the few images here, you can already see that Conserve the Sound is as much a feast for the eyes as for the ears, each object lovingly photographed against an austere white background. In order for the full nostalgic effect to work, however, you need to visit these pages and hit “play.” It even magically works with objects from before our times, given how prominently their sounds feature in film and audio recordings that define the periods. You’ve likely also noticed how many of these products are of European origin, and many of them, like the robotic head of the Kassettenrekorder Weltron Model 2004, are perhaps unfamiliar to many consumers from elsewhere in the world.

Conserve the Sound is a European project, funded by the Film & Medienstiftung NRW in Germany, thus its selection skews toward European-made products. But the sound of a fan or an adding machine in Germany is the sound of a fan or adding machine in Chile, China, Kenya, or Nebraska. See a trailer for the project at the top of the post, and below, one of the many interviews in which German public figures, scholars, librarians, technicians, and students answer questions about their mnemonic associations with technological sound. In this interview, radio presenter Bianca Hauda describes one of her favorite old sounds from a favorite old machine, a 1970s portable cassette recorder.

via WFMU

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

New Web Site Showcases 700,000 Artifacts Dug Up from the Canals of Amsterdam, Some Dating Back to 4300 BC

Amsterdam has many pleasures to offer, not least boating through its hundred-kilometer network of canals. First laid out in the early 17th century, they constitute a rich history lesson in and of themselves. But Amsterdam is also, of course, a modern city with modern infrastructure, such as a metro system with a new line set to open this month. Amsterdammers have been waiting for that line for fifteen years now, and the reasons for the prolonged construction have to do with the old canals, or rather part of the River Amstel that feeds them.

Boring the tunnels entailed draining the river, and draining the river turned out to offer another history lesson, and a much deeper one than expected. "It is not often that a riverbed, let alone one in the middle of a city, is pumped dry and can be systematically examined," says the web site Below the Surface. "The excavations in the Amstel yielded a deluge of finds, some 700,000 in all: a vast array of objects, some broken, some whole, all jumbled together."

The unintended archaeological benefit of draining the river amounts to "a multi-faceted picture of daily life in the city of Amsterdam. Every find is a frozen moment in time, connecting the past and the present. The picture they paint of their era is extremely detailed and yet entirely random due to the chance of objects or remains sinking down into the riverbed and being retrieved from there." At Below the Surface you can browse the extensive catalog of all these artifacts, the oldest of which date to around 4300 BC, more than five and a half millennia before the founding of Amsterdam itself.

Below the Surface's collection is organized into ten different categories including "interiors and accessories," "crafts and industry," "arms and armor," "communication and exchange," and "games and recreation." On your digitized object-based historical journey there, you'll encounter objects from all of those realms of human life across time, from 13th-century coins, 15th-century keys, 18th-century tiles, and 20th-century medicine tins. To we humans of the 21st century, in the Netherlands or elsewhere, some of these might look surprisingly contemporary — or at least not nearly as ancient as a mobile phone from the 1990s. Enter Below the Surface here.

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Big Digital Archive of Independent & Alternative Publications: Browse/Download Radical Periodicals Printed from 1951 to 2016

The consolidation of big media in print, TV, and internet has had some seriously deleterious effects on politics and culture, not least of which has been the major dependence on social media as a means of mass communication. While these platforms give space to voices we may not otherwise hear, they also flatten and monetize communication, spread abuse and disinformation, force the use of one-size-fits-all tools, and create the illusion of an open, democratic forum that obscures the gross inequities of real life.

Today’s media landscape stands in stark contrast to that of the mid-to-late twentieth century, when independent and alternative presses flourished, disseminating art, poetry, and radical politics, and offering custom platforms for marginalized communities and dissenters. While the future of independent media seems, today, unclear at best, a look back at the indie presses of decades past may show a way forward.

Paradoxically, the same technology that threatens to impose a global monoculture also enables us to archive and share thousands of unique artifacts from more heterodox ages of communication. One stellar example of such an archive, Independent Voices—“an open access collection of an alternative press”—stores several hundred digitized copies of periodicals “produced by feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Hispanics, LGBT activists, the extreme right-wing press and alternative literary magazines during the latter half of the 20th century.”

These publications come from the special collections of several dozen libraries and individuals and span the years 1951 to 2016. While examples from recent years show that alternative print publications haven’t disappeared, the richest, most historically resonant examples tend to come from the 60s and 70s, when the various strains of the counterculture formed collective movements and aesthetics, often powered by easy-to-use mimeograph machines.

As Georgia State University historian John McMillian says, the “hundreds of radical underground newspapers” that proliferated during the Vietnam war “educated and politicized young people, helped to shore up activist communities, and were the movement’s primary means of internal communication.” These publications, notes The New Yorker’s Louis Menand, represent “one of the most spontaneous and aggressive growths in publishing history.”

With publications from the era like And Ain’t I a WomanBread & Roses, Black Dialogue, Gay Liberator, Grunt Free Press, Native Movement, and The Yipster Times, Independent Voices showcases the height of countercultural activist publishing. These are only a smattering of titles on offer. Each issue is archived in a high-resolution, downloadable PDF, perfect for brushing up on your general knowledge of second-wave feminism or 60s Black Power; sourcing scholarship on the development of radical, alternative press over the past sixty years; or finding material to inspire the future of indie media, whatever form it happens to take. Enter the Independent Voices archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Discover an Archive of Taped New York City-Area Punk & Indie Concerts from the 80s and 90s: The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Replacements & Many More

“For decades now,” John Coulthart writes at Dangerous Minds, “Hoboken has been on an implacable course of gentrification… to the point that scruffy and legendary music venues can’t hack it there anymore.” One could replace “Hoboken” with the name of virtually any US city that once hosted a seminal live venue. You live long enough, you see the world completely change, and all the punk and indie clubs shut down or moved to Brooklyn. The 21st century has given us cities few indie artists or their fans can afford, even as it also gives us high-speed internet, huge servers, cheap web hosting, and hard drives that can hold terabytes of digital music.

But at least the club shows of the past can live on in incredibly awesome archives like The McKenzie Tapes, “a collection of live audio recordings from some of the New York City-area’s most prominent music venues of the 1980s and 1990s.”

Recorded by David McKenzie, a former employee of legendary Hoboken venue Maxwell’s and consummate concert-goer, the taped gigs come from such venues as The Ritz, Tramps, Irving Plaza, The Roxy, the Cat Club, Bowery Ballroom, CBGB’s, the Knitting Factory, and, of course, Maxwell’s.

Too many legendary bands to list in full show up here: some major highlights include The Replacements at the Ritz in 1986, right after the release of Tim. (See them at the top in a soundcheck at Maxwell’s that same year); the Pixies at Maxwell’s in 1988, playing songs from their just-released watershed Surfer Rosa; Sonic Youth on back-to-back nights at CBGB’s in 88, playing Daydream Nation the month before recording the album. Hüsker Dü, Wire, John Spencer Blues Explosion, The Fall, The Feelies, Afghan Whigs, Mudhoney, Violent Femmes, Mojo Nixon—the shows are a who’s who of punk and indie from the last two decades of the century, with appearances from 70s legends like Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine.

Sprinkled throughout are surprises like a 1989 performance from Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Arkestra at Maxwell’s and gigs by blues stalwarts T Model Ford and R.L. Burnside, as well as the occasional outlier show abroad. The project is the work of Jersey City record collector, archivist, event producer, and podcaster Tom Gallo, friend of David McKenzie, and he has done an excellent job of preserving not only the music from McKenzie’s tapes, but images of the tapes themselves—with hand-written band names and song titles and black-and-white Xeroxed covers—as well as Village Voice listings of the gigs and occasional ticket stubs, setlists, and live photos.

Don’t expect much in the way of sound quality—that’s part of the charm of a taped show. These are raw documents of the cassette age, a time come and gone, never to come again. We might not mourn its passing, but something—a spirit of experimental, noisy, tuneful, angry, raucous, lo-fi, analog indie fun—seems to have disappeared along with it. All of these digitized tapes are downloadable. Put 'em on your phone and relive the glory days, or discover these treasures from the recent past for the first time at The McKenzie Tapes here.

via Dangerous Minds

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A New Massive Helen Keller Archive Gets Launched: Take a Digital Look at Her Photos, Letters, Speeches, Political Writings & More

Take an innocuous statement like, “we should teach children about the life of Helen Keller.” What reasonable, compassionate person would disagree? Hers is a story of triumph over incredible adversity, of perseverance and friendship and love. Now, take a statement like, “we should teach children the political writing of Helen Keller,” and you might see brawls in town halls and school board meetings. This is because Helen Keller was a committed socialist and serious political thinker, who wrote extensively to advocate for economic cooperation over competition and to support the causes of working people. She was an activist for peace and justice who opposed war, imperialism, racism, and poverty, conditions that huge numbers of people seem devoted to maintaining—both in her lifetime and today.

Keller’s moving, persuasive writing is eloquent and uncompromising and should be taught alongside that of other great American rhetoricians. Consider, for example, the passage below from a letter she wrote in 1916 to Oswald Villard, then Vice-President of the NAACP:

Ashamed in my very soul I behold in my own beloved south-land the tears of those who are oppressed, those who must bring up their sons and daughters in bondage to be servants, because others have their fields and vineyards, and on the side of the oppressor is power. I feel with those suffering, toiling millions, I am thwarted with them. Every attempt to keep them down and crush their spirit is a betrayal of my faith that good is stronger than evil, and light stronger than darkness…. My spirit groans with all the deaf and blind of the world, I feel their chains chafing my limbs. I am disenfranchised with every wage-slave. I am overthrown, hurt, oppressed, beaten to the earth by the strong, ruthless ones who have taken away their inheritance. The wrongs of the poor endure ring fiercely in my soul, and I shall never rest until they are lifted into the light, and given their fair share in the blessings of life that God meant for us all alike.

It is difficult to choose any one passage from the letter because the whole is written with such expressive feeling. This is but one document among many hundreds in the new Helen Keller archive at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), which has digitized letters, essays, speeches, photographs, and much more from Keller’s long, tireless career as a writer and public speaker. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the archive includes over 250,000 digital images of her work from the late 19th century to well into the 20th. There are many films of Keller, photos like that of her and her dog Sieglinde at the top, a collection of her correspondence with Mark Twain, and much more.

In addition to Keller’s own published and unpublished work, the archive contains many letters to and about her, press clippings, informative AFB blog posts, and resources for students and teachers. The site aims to be "fully accessible to audiences who are blind, deaf, hard-of-hearing, low vision, or deafblind." On the whole, this project “presents an opportunity to encounter this renowned historical figure in a new, dynamic, and exciting way," as AFB writes in a press release. "For example, despite her fame, relatively few people know that Helen Keller wrote 14 books as well as hundreds of essays and articles on a broad array of subjects ranging from animals and atomic energy to Mahatma Gandhi.”

And, of course, she was a lifelong advocate for the blind and deaf, writing and speaking out on disability rights issues for decades. Indeed, it’s difficult to find a subject in which she did not take an interest. The archive’s subject index shows her writing about games, sports, reading, shopping, swimming, travel, architecture and the arts, education, law, government, world religions, royalty, women’s suffrage, and more. There were many in her time who dismissed Keller’s unpopular views, calling her naïve and claiming that she had been duped by nefarious actors. The charge is insulting and false. Her body of work shows her to have been an extraordinarily well-read, wise, cosmopolitan, sensitive, self-aware, and honest critical thinker.

Two years after the NAACP letter, Keller wrote an essay called “Competition,” in which she made the case for “a better social order” against a central conceit of capitalism: that “life would not be worth while without the keen edge of competition,” and that without it “men would lose ambition, and the race would sink into dull sameness.” Keller advances her counterargument with vigorous and incisive reasoning.

This whole argument is a fallacy. Whatever is worth while in our civilization has survived in spite of competition. Under the competitive system the work of the world is badly done. The result is waste and ruin [….] Profit is the aim, and the public good is a secondary consideration. Competition sins against its own pet god efficiency. In spite of all the struggle, toil and fierce effort the result is a depressing state of destitution for the majority of mankind. Competition diverts man's energies into useless channels and degrades his character. It is immoral as well as inefficient, since its commandment is "Thou shalt compete against thy neighbor." Such a rule does not foster Truthfulness, honesty, consideration for others. [….] Competitors are indifferent to each other's welfare. Indeed, they are glad of each other's failure because they find their advantage in it. Compassion is deadened in them by the necessity they are under of nullifying the efforts of their fellow-competitors.

Keller refused to become cynical in the face of seemingly indefatigable greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy. Though not a member of a mainstream church (she belonged to the obscure Christian sect of Swedenborgianism), she exhorted American Christians to live up to their professions—to follow the example of their founder and the commandments of their sacred text. In an essay written after World War I, she argued movingly for disarmament and “the vital issue of world peace.” While making a number of logical arguments, Keller principally appeals to the common ethos of the nation’s dominant faith.

This is precisely where we have failed, calling ourselves Christians we have fundamentally broken, and taught others to break most patriotically, the commandment of the Lord, “Thou shalt not kill” [….] Let us then try out Christianity upon earth—not lip-service, but the teaching of Him who came upon earth that “all men might have life, and have it more abundantly.” War strikes at the very heart of this teaching.

We can hear Helen Keller’s voice speaking directly to us from the past, diagnosing the ills of her age that look so much like those of our own. “The mythological Helen Keller,” writes Keith Rosenthal, “has aptly been described as a sort of ‘plaster saint;’ a hollow, empty vessel who is little more than an apolitical symbol for perseverance and personal triumph.” Though she embodied those qualities, she also dedicated her entire life to careful observation of the world around her, to writing and speaking out on issues that mattered, and to caring deeply about the welfare of others. Get to know the real Helen Keller, in all her complexity, fierce intelligence, and ferocious compassion, at the American Foundation for the Blind’s exhaustive digital archive of her life and work.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

New Archive of Middle Eastern Photography Features 9,000 Digitized Images

From Shamoon Zamir, a literature professor at NYU Abu Dhabi, comes a "research archive of historical and contemporary photography from the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA)," designed to be  fully accessible to the public. We're told:

Today, Akkasah: The Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi boasts an archive of 62,000 images from the UAE and across the MENA region – of which 9,000 are already digitized and available online -- the only of its kind in the Middle East. These images offer new insights into the history and rapid transformation of the UAE and the broader Arab world. They include historical collections ranging from the nineteenth century to the late twentieth, covering a variety of themes and topics, from early images of the Holy Lands and from the Ottoman Empire, to images from family albums, institutional archives and the history of Egyptian cinema.

You can visit the collection of images here, which is itself divided into a few key areas: Historical CollectionsContemporary Projects, and Photo Albums.

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Explore 7,600 Works of Art by Edvard Munch: They’re Now Digitized and Free Online

If there were ever an exhibition of artistic “one-hit-wonders,” surely Edvard Munch’s The Scream would occupy a central place, maybe hung adjacent to Grant Wood’s American Gothic. The ratio of those who know this single painting to those who know the artist's other works must be exponentially high, which is something of a shame. That’s not to say The Scream does not deserve its exalted place in popular culture—like Wood's stone-faced Midwest farmers, the wavy figure, clutching its screaming skull-like head, resonates at the deepest of psychic frequencies, an archetypal evocation of existential horror.

Not for nothing has Sue Prideaux subtitled her Munch biography Behind the Scream. “Rarely in the canon of Western art,” writes Tom Rosenthal at The Independent, “has there been so much anxiety, fear and deep psychological pain in one artist. That he lived to be 80 and spent only one period in an asylum is a tribute not only to Munch’s physical stamina but to his iron will and his innate, robust psychological strength.” Born in Norway in 1863, the sickly Edvard, whose mother died soon after his birth, was raised by a harsh disciplinarian father who read Poe and Dostoevsky to his children and, in addition to beating them “for minor infractions,” would “invoke the image of their blessed mother who saw them from heaven and grieved over their misbehavior.”

The trauma was compounded by the death of Munch’s sister and, later, his brother, and by the institutionalization of another sister, Laura, diagnosed with schizophrenia. Munch’s own childhood illness made his schooling erratic, though he did manage to receive some artistic training, briefly, at Oslo’s Art Association, an artist’s club where he “learnt by copying the works on display.”

From there the young Munch launched himself into an extraordinarily productive career, punctuated by legendary bouts of drinking and carousing and intense friendships with literary figures like August Strindberg.

If we count ourselves among those who know little of Munch’s work, a new initiative from the Munch Museum in Oslo aims to correct that by making over 7,600 of Munch’s drawings available online. “The online catalog, free to all,” notes Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp, “represents a tremendous feat of logistics, and features drawings that go back as far as the artist’s childhood, sketchbooks, studies of tools, coins, and keys that demonstrate Munch’s dedication as a disciplined draftsman, and watercolors of buildings that were some of the first bodies of work developed by the artist in his youth.”

Over 90% of the drawings on digital display come from the Museum’s holdings, the rest from other public and private collections. “The goal is to make Munch’s art known and easily accessible to as many people as possible,” Magne Bruteig, Senior Curator for Prints and Drawings, tells Hyperallergic. “Since the majority of the drawings had never been exhibited or published in any way, it has been of special importance to reveal this ‘hidden treasure.’” The online collection, then, not only serves as an introduction for Munch novices but also for longtime admirers of the artist’s work, who have hitherto had little to no access to this huge collection of studies, preparatory sketches, watercolors, etc., which includes the miserable family grouping of Angst, at the top, the reprise of his infamous Scream figure, further up, from 1898, and The Sick Child, above, a portrait of his sister Sophie who died in childhood.

The drawings date back to 1873, when Munch was only ten years old and inserted a series of his own illustrations into a copy of Grimm’s Fairytales. The final works date from 1943, the year before the artist’s death, when he made the self-portrait above in pastel crayon. Munch’s work, writes Rosenthal, “is compulsively autobiographical.” Remaining a committed bachelor all of his life, he said that “his paintings were his children, even though he gave many of them a somewhat Spartan upbringing, deliberately leaving them not only unvarnished but exposed to the elements in his vast outdoor studio or hung on walls, unframed and with nails through them.” The several thousand drawings he fathered seem to have been treated with more care. Delve into the enormous collection at the Oslo Munch Museum site here, where you can also view many of the artist's paintings and learn much more about his life and work through articles and essays.

via Hyperallergic

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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