The Web Site “Centuries of Sound” is Making a Mixtape for Every Year of Recorded Sound from 1860 to Present

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The British Library’s “Sounds” Archive Presents 80,000 Free Audio Record­ings: World & Clas­si­cal Music, Inter­views, Nature Sounds & More

Cor­nell Launch­es Archive of 150,000 Bird Calls and Ani­mal Sounds, with Record­ings Going Back to 1929

Great New Archive Lets You Hear the Sounds of New York City Dur­ing the Roar­ing 20s

Map­ping the Sounds of Greek Byzan­tine Church­es: How Researchers Are Cre­at­ing “Muse­ums of Lost Sound”

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.

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  • paul nimmo says:

    WOW! I’d like to be more elo­quent but frankly I’m lit­er­al­ly speech­less. this is amaz­ing. I’ve been col­lect­ing sound pure­ly for the fun of it since I was a child, I’m now 53 but I’ve nev­er seen any­thing this ambi­cious. I will be eager­ly lis­ten­ing.

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