CSP 64 - Spring 2019

From the Phonograph to Auto-Tune...

Author: deirdre.ellis

Sousa’a Mechanical Menace

I think that Sousa’s arguments regarding recordings and copyright law are valid for a composer who is essentially watching technology rob him of the rights to his compositions. What at first reads like an old timer ranting on about “the new-fangled machinery of today” actually reveals itself to in its final pages to be an artist frustrated with a system that seems to cater to those wishing to make money off of someone’s work without compensation for that original artist. Sousa’s points about so called mechanical music (that it will completely decimate the amateur class of musician, no children will want to learn instruments, babies no longer hearing lullabies from their mothers) may not have come true in quite the way described, but today still sees large gray areas in copyright law and artistic rights. Though the way in which music yields a profit at the expense of the artist is not so much mechanical as digital these days, streaming, YouTube to mp3 converters, and yes the bygone days of Napster all are basically extensions of the problem Sousa describes in 1906. Even with all the talk of the “soul filling” power of music, at the end of the day (Sousa seems to imply) creators too would like a share of the profits.

Manuscript Page

This vellum manuscript leaf is a single page from what must have been a beautifully illustrated volume of text and music. The page is small, so it is unlikely that this music was set before a choir and used to aid in practices or performances. Though vellum is a tough material that clearly stands the test of time (this page is from the thirteenth century) there are still challenges with preserving such artifacts. The biggest and somewhat saddest being that often the whole book cannot be salvaged. After all, Special Collection’s giant metal bound Harry Potter book cannot even be opened due to spinal damage. (Thus rendering the contents virtually invisible since there is no way to view them without destroying the object). The book that this was separated from may be out there somewhere missing pages, or perhaps there is no longer a book, only single pages like this one scattered in academic institutions and libraries around the world. But perhaps it is better this way. A book spends the majority of its time closed in a library, and even when displayed can only show two pages at a time. Limited to one leaf, the task of choosing which page to view is eliminated as are all the hardships of preserving a bound volume. It is unfortunate that there are not a hundred pages to flip through, yet one well preserved page may be of more value than one badly preserved book- or worse, nothing at all.

The Openeer Papers

Strongly featured in the excerpts from the “Openeer Papers” is the preservation of the narrative voice (especially in Chapter Two). Strange for a portion of text gathered from a work entitled The Phonograph and How to Use It (which sounds rather like an instruction manual), the main effect of the voices seems to be the normalization of the machine itself. By having the voice of a friendly neighborhood everyman tell of his fun encounters with the phonograph; the phonograph no longer seems like a cold machine used only in demonstrations. Lacking the technical talk of a traditional how-to manual, the anecdotal passage makes the technology less intimidating. The story-like structure of the text forces the reader to see the phonograph in a social setting, as a tool of endless entertainment to be enjoyed in good company. Moreover, the narrative voice has long been a tool of advertisement. A reader in 1900 reading all about the Openeers amazing their friends and hosting sophisticated gatherings surely will feel left out of the fun and want in. And if they are unsure what function the invention serves? The text has that covered- with what are essentially bullet points of each use relayed by Mr. Openeer in a “I heard of a novel use for a phonograph the other day…” format. If even then the reader is skeptical of the various uses, the second half of the reading teaches them how to use the phonograph as an excuse to throw soirées- detailing the preparations and procedures right down to the finger foods.