The Museum Of Sounds
January 11, 2005 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Did you know there's a department of the Smithsonian dedicated to saving the sounds of the past? Old phone rings, coffee percolators, home movie projectors, and much more.
posted by braun_richard (20 comments total)
interesting... every single sound that the article mentioned suddenly evoked a memory of that sound in my head. I guess I never thought about it before, but it HAS been ages since I've heard the clink of a coin in a payphone, or the screech of a modem, or the fast clicks of film-advancing in cameras. I'm only 21, and already lots of things from my childhood are pretty much gone.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:49 PM on January 11, 2005

Neat stuff. You can browse the Folkways label here. I'm amazed at the scope of their collection. (Try "Havah Nagila.")

Two people in my office have the old-timey ring on their cell phones. It's a little jarring because my first reaction is "I need to get it" and my second reaction is "I don't know where the old-timey phone is."
posted by hydrophonic at 9:31 PM on January 11, 2005

What a tease - it's just a link to an article about such recordings...I want to hear the recordings! As near as I can tell, they're just talking about Folkways, and you can sample most of their goods on the website.

For example, having just read a bunch of Elmore Leonard westerns about the exact region, I quite enjoyed the sounds of Chiricahua Mountain in the Dry Season. Mentioned is the article is "Sonoran Spadefoot Toad, when Seized by a Hognosed Snake" which is on the same track as these nice puma sounds. These are from Sounds of the American Southwest. Also sure to please is Sounds of the Office, because everyone likes the sounds of an electric typewriter.

OP hydrophonic beat me to it, but only because I stopped to browse...:)
posted by freebird at 9:34 PM on January 11, 2005

What a beautiful idea. It's a sad paradox that the sounds of the old world -- to be a little melodramatic -- are so lush and meaningful, though they arose without great design aforesight, while the sonic accompaniments of hyper-designed modern living tend to feel so impermanent and emotionally shallow. I'm curious -- what sounds from our own era will evoke the same pleasant fulfillment as, say, the clicking dial of a rotary phone? My first vote is for the whirs and blips of a spinning hard drive, bridging the gap between digital and mechanical in such a way that late at night one imagines a colony of friendly bugs inside my laptop, or perhaps minute elven mechanics.
posted by Coherence Panda at 9:39 PM on January 11, 2005

Modem sound! Oh wait, that's already obsolete...but it is also a nice analog/digital bridge. Nonetheless I'm not having any of your (admittedly tempting) old sounds > new sounds stuff. Cool sounds are always out there, it's a trick of perspective.
posted by freebird at 9:55 PM on January 11, 2005

coherence panda- the sound a CD makes as it ejects from my 12" powerbook is nothing short of sublime. Also the bleeps and bloops the machine makes as you increase or decrease the volume. These sounds already have nice connotations for me.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:19 PM on January 11, 2005

Check This out!
Welcome to Eclectic Artistry's ultimate MIDI, WAV, RealAudio, MP3, AU (etc.) link list. Over 500 sites are listed here. Bookmark this page now and let it be your doorway to literally terabytes of sound files and audio software collected by these dedicated web masters. You'll find sound files from TV, radio, and movies, funny answering machine messages, system and Windows event sounds, adult Wavs, comedy and just plain weirdness. Plus you will find music from every conceivable genre and era. If you are looking for pop, rock, alternative, punk, heavy metal, dance, techno, disco, country, jazz, classical or any other kind of music, you will find it here. Plus find original music and sounds that can only be found on the web.
posted by Niahmas at 11:37 PM on January 11, 2005

20th century sounds.
posted by ed at 11:42 PM on January 11, 2005

Does anyone remember that the old dial tone used to be a lower toned buzz, rather than the whistling tone we have now?
posted by blissing at 12:25 AM on January 12, 2005

The elder Valentino worked with Orson Welles on “War of the Worlds” and once captured the chug of a steam train running full tilt by greasing the railroad tracks at Grand Central Station so the locomotive couldn’t move.

I wonder if he captured the sound of his own feet running at full tilt as the people on the train climbed off to kick his ass?

The site has a Library of Vanished Sounds.

As Marnix Koolhaas notes, we have to preserve the sounds of people, not just the clatter of machines: "Although I won't be able to reconstruct it, the typical sound of my youth's iceman is sticked in my memory. I'll never be able to rehearse his yell, but if you would sang it right now, I for sure will recognize it at once. But unfortunately I never recorded his yell, and my mother told me that the iceman died years ago: so with him his yell was buried for ever." (The iceman also goeth.)

Vendors still walk down our street calling "Potatoes!" while a truck rolls slowly behind them with big bags full of potatoes to sell, but I remember when that truck was a horse and cart, and soon even the truck will be gone. I wonder if anyone has ever recorded the call?
posted by pracowity at 12:37 AM on January 12, 2005

And when will this collection be available online? I want my virtual reality engineers to be able to develop accurate representations of the past.... it is only by providing this in digital form that the smithsonian will have me happy about my tax dollars, how aobut 3d models of old objects while they are getting started hmmm?
posted by sourbrew at 2:56 AM on January 12, 2005

Ahhhh, rotary phone. My mom still has a Western Electric rotary phone in her kitchen. The sound of that mechanical bell is the best ringer ever.
posted by fixedgear at 3:20 AM on January 12, 2005

Not STRICTLY relevant to this thread so apologies in advance but....

I have an old, red British dial phone in my office at home. Its on the Internet line but it rings when rung.

Just a year ago, my son (then 13) ask how you "dialed" the numbers. He's only ever known push-button phones and yet uses the word "dial" still.

Obviously, with today's longer numbers and area codes, using a dial phone can be a long and tedious process.

Love the sound of that bell though!
posted by JtJ at 4:13 AM on January 12, 2005

old pinball machines, car horns and pull-chain toilet flushes.

I can't say why exactly, but I'm really glad these sounds are being saved for future generations...

And now I've got a sudden urge to start wearing a stetson, smoking a pipe and shouting 'operator?...operator!' whenever my phonecalls are cut off.
posted by backOfYourMind at 5:55 AM on January 12, 2005

Reminds me of the Rebel Yell of the Confederate army during the Civil War and the fact that though everyone agrees it existed, no one seems to agree on what it sounded like.

"One of the most enduring legends of the American Civil War is that of the 'Rebel Yell' we hear a great deal about it, though no two people seem agreed on the sound, or even on its origin. What did it sound like?"
posted by fieldofdreams at 7:35 AM on January 12, 2005

One of the coolest things about The Matrix was the fact that analog phones were the doors in and out.

Great post, braun richard.
posted by digaman at 8:12 AM on January 12, 2005

You just can't beat the click click click of a stiff playing card clothespinned to the wheel of your schwin.

Or the flap flap flap of clean sheets drying in the breeze.

Or the shooka shooka shooka of a rainbird watering the lawn in July.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:15 AM on January 12, 2005

The slamming phone, like dozens of once-familiar sounds, is headed for extinction. As technology advances, more noises – the pop of flashbulbs, the gurgle of coffee percolators, the clatter of home-movie projectors – are fading into oblivion.

Fascinating: I've heard some old radio shows that use these sounds and others to create a context, one that wouldn't be communicated by them to a contemporary listener. It's like archaic words, dropping out of the vocabulary and sending a reader scrambling for the big dictionary, except there's not really a way to look up a sound if you don't know what caused it already (yet).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:22 AM on January 12, 2005

Ahoy hoy?
posted by keswick at 8:50 AM on January 12, 2005

Tangent: isn't it unfortunate that we can't yet have a library of vanished smells?
posted by Songdog at 12:04 PM on January 12, 2005

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