The vibrations of the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad in Manhattan, a recitation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the announcements issuing forth from an inventor’s attempt at a talking clock — hardly a mix with which to get the party started, but one that provides the closest experience we can get to traveling in a sonic time machine. With Centuries of Sound, James Errington has assembled those recordings and a few others into its 1878-1885 mix, an early chapter in his project of creating one listening experience for each year in the history of recorded sound.
“Things get a little more listenable in 1887 with a recording of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,'” writes The A.V. Club’s Matt Gerardi. “It’s also with this third mix that we start to get a sense for Centuries Of Sound’s editing style, as speeches start to be layered over musical performances, creating a listening experience that’s as pleasurable as it is educational.”
In so doing, “Errington calls attention to the issue of representation, as one of his primary goals is to paint a global, multi-cultural picture of recording history,” digging past all the “marching bands, sentimental ballads, novelty instrumentals and nothing much else” in the historical archives while putting out the call for expert help sourcing and evaluating “Rembetika, early microtonal recordings, French political speeches, Tagore songs or anything else.”
Putting up another year’s mix each month, Centuries of Sound has so far made it up to 1893, the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago which “set the tone for the next twenty-five years of architecture, arts, culture and the electrification of the world,” and also the first age of “‘hits’ – music produced with an eye to selling, even if only as a souvenir or a fun novelty.” With a decade remaining until Centuries of Sound catches up with the present moment, Errington has put together a taste of what its sonic dose of the almost-present will sound like with a 2016 preview mix featuring the likes of the final album by A Tribe Called Quest and Lazarus, the musical by David Bowie, both of whom took their final bows last year. We’re definitely a long way from the time of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But how will it all sound to the ears of 2027?
via The A.V. Club
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.