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«to pull soon... | Front | Yet another mysterious and perhaps almost meaningless entry entailing my parents, a mental institution and some almost nudity. Oh yeah. »

February 08, 2005
About an old voice recorder and how it made me resize the world when I was a little boy. My father once brought home one of the very early magnetic voice recorders. One of his clients must have given it to him, as a present to the ultimate collector of everything. The recorder was a relatively heavy machine, the enclosure made out of brown Bakelite, the core made out of golden "Hammerschlaglack". (I have no idea how this would translate into English. It is that cloudy looking paint that protected most of the cool machinery in the 30's and 40's.) The brown-golden monster looked pretty much like an old record player, it had that spinning turntable, covered by slightly hardened brown rubber, it had a speaker on the side, one with golden lettering, celebrating the glory of a long dead brand. One could even mistake it for a special record player from maybe the thirties, if it had not come with what looked like a Bakelite rattle at the end of a brown cloth covered wire, one with a grill very similar to that of the speaker, also adorned with some golden lines and that name I now do not remember. I think the rattle also had two buttons, one a very dark red, the other one a dirty green, but it could really be my memory adding an interface to what was obviously the microphone and remote. What was also special about the unusual record player were the records that were supplied with it. They were twelve inch disks, with no labels, they could have possibly be mistaken for records, were their grooves not almost a millimeter thick channels, created to guide what was a very heavy looking metal needle of the recorder arm. So this was the recorder. A dictaphone. A recordaton... I clearly do not remember the real name. The sound quality of the device was really abysmal, but the thing did work, it could be made to listen and then it remembered. The machine already had some memories when my father gave it to me. I put on one of the records, turned on the machine, and there it was: a faint voice of a man saying some important numbers, somewhere behind the audible curtain of static. The voice of the man sounded very serious, I imagined him wearing a flanel suit and a hat. I also imagined that there were not only numbers on his mind, but also the secretary who would have to translate them into figures drawn on paper. The voice recorded on some of the disks was simply the one of a powerful man in command. He was speaking not to himself, he was speaking to a modern machine, a machine he could afford to buy, a helping machine that made it possible for him to be even more powerful, a machine that was a buffer between him and his secretary. He was able to extend his authority beyond his actual presence. She would have to listen to her masterís voice even beyond his time at his office. (I have to ask my readers with two x chromosomes to forgive my assumption that the secretary was a woman, but at the time when I listened to the recordings, as a boy, secretary somehow translated into a very skilled person who somehow always happened to be a woman.) I did not keep the recordings that were on the disks. The meaning of the numbers had long expired, and what I saw were not recordings, but a blank slate for new records of my, much more important existence. And so I began to talk to the brown labelless disks. I began to press the buttons on the rattle and to make announcements to a virtual audience, began the spoken version of that writer's prayer, announcements that are somehow important, but never really expect an answer. I began to talk about things. I never finished. I recorded again and again. I never came to any conclusions. Soon the disks were filled with the preparation of great things to be said, without any important thing said after. I was getting us all ready for the amazing next thing. The next thing then never came. It was a bit like the songs I would sing by myself sometimes, the songs with great beginnings that could just never find that last concluding note. Imagine a five year old boy standing in the middle of the living room, trying to finish a newly invented song, and that song would just not want to end. The boy trapped in the hills and valleys of his voice, going on and on on a journey of a magnificent beginning with no end... It was a bit like that. Recording beginnings is fine for starters, but it is really not something that one would want to continue for too long, especially when the days are wide open plains filled with potential adventure... Unless, of course, one discovers that what looks like a record player can also somehow work like a record player. The disk was spun at a certain speed and it then recorded my voice into its magnetic noisy grooves. Once i slowed down the disk with my hand, the recording on the disk became the one of a very different giant me. Then when I moved the disk a little faster, a mini version of me was speaking the words I had just recorded. I even managed to let myself speak backwards. Then backwards and forwards. Then a mix of it all. It was a bit as if the machine that had been created to express power and authority had been for once transformed into a golden brownish friend, an old parrot, one that could repeat whatever I told it in a way that even I could not understand. This was really great, of course. I had found a new electric friend. I soon began to record not only my voice, but the voices of other machines. My magnetic parrot was to meet the other machine friends. I would manipulate the speed of the various recorded melodies and sounds after the moment of recording at first. The recording would happen at the normal speed and then I would listen to the recording and manipulate it. This was an okay idea, but what turned out to be much more fun was to manipulate the speed of things at the time of the recording itself. I would spin and turn the disk at various speeds while I would record whatever I was recording, creating "true to life records" that seemed to be transmissions from some drunk crew of a ufo. I think the one recording that was a real special one for me was when I was able to record some birds, singing really loudly outside of my window. The little finches and starlings and sparrows suddenly became giant dinosaurs, roaring very dangerously, very impressively, very big. I obviously heard them during my recording. They were the sweet voices of loud but pretty cute little birds in the branches outside of my window. The sounds that were replayed to me were massive, powerful, fascinating, they were somehow messages from a parallel dimension. I wonder if any of the bird recordings still remain on the brown magnetic disks. I took the recorder with me when I moved out of my parents' house. It became a bizarre conversation starter for my house-guests at my apartment in Offenbach. I did not bring the machine with me when moving to New York. It was just very bulky and not very necessary of course. So it is quite possible that some of my recordings still remain. It is quite possible that my distorted voice is still there, the boy announcing the next great thing, the giant birds... maybe the magnetic field of the planet turned them back into its own timeless recording of white noise... Regardless of what is on the disks now, what made me even write about them were the birds outside my window, here in Brooklyn. They sound very harmless with their calls, but I just remembered that they only sound this way because of our shared perception of time flow and our difference in size... The vibrations we perceive, the area of the spectrum we can hear, makes these little monsters sound slightly irrelevant and pleasant. I guess if we were smaller than them, and maybe if we were able to hear their sounds with a much better focus at the sounds between the sounds, the singing could be unbearably frightening. On the other hand, the man recording the impressive numbers, any man recording impressive anything, might be no more than a finch outside of a back window, when only listened to at the appropriate "speed" or maybe at least from the appropriate distance, be it space or time... or both... Hmm... so, if only looked at from the right angle, the least threatening things can become monsters... and monsters can indeed be nothing more than the least threatening little things... The change of perspective might just sometimes require more than an old recording machine and a boy spinning its disk at ever changing speeds... Or maybe the thought of that event, or the memory, could be a good starting point for some of that... (As I am writing this, the singing of the birds is being eclipsed by the noise of a police car speeding down seventh avenue... oh boy, I think it is time for me to get back to work...)