CSP 64 - Spring 2019

From the Phonograph to Auto-Tune...

Author: vrubz

Sousa and Mechanical Music

John Philip Sousa was a famous American composer known best for his patriotic marching tunes. With the influx of phonographs and recorded music, Sousa and many others began to criticize the mechanization of music. As someone who wrote music that was intended to be performed live by a large band, Sousa critically claimed that recorded music was a,“substitute for human skill, intelligence, and soul.” (278) He essentially was arguing that a recording takes the soul out of music. While I agree that a recording takes spontaneity and the candid essence out of a musical moment, I think the soul is still there. I don’t think recorded music is meant to necessarily imitate live music, it is its own animal. It’s a time capsule for a song, while live music is fleeting and in the moment. They are fundamentally different in design. I think the technological reproduction of  music makes music more accessible and integrative in daily life. I can just put my headphones and listen to songs wherever I am.

I think that that are some parallels between what Sousa is describing to be “soulless” and modern day technological reproductions of music. To me, a lot of the music I hear on the radio that is drenched in autotune is soulless in the way that many of those musicians are not very good live. I’ve been very lucky to have attended  many concerts, and I find that many performers that sound perfect on the radio have little to no stage presence and are not as talented as they are painted to be.

I think a lot has changed with copyrighting since Sousa was alive, but I really emphasize with his struggles. The fact that musician cheated him by only buying sheet music and not having to pay anything for recording his songs and then selling them is ridiculous. Those songs were his brainchildren and he should’ve been compensated for every reproduction that was made. I’m really glad that copyright laws are much more strict today and protect the people who create art.

Pocket Hymn Book

On Monday February 5th, our CSP went to visit Oxy’s Special Collections. The exhibit we went to see showcased real life examples of things we learned about in class like the phonograph, manuscripts, records, and more! While I found the whole collection to be riveting, this small little hymn book made for army men was what caught my eye. This little collection of hymns touched me so deeply because it conveys how important music and chants have been to society all along. In the fine print of the Preface, the publisher writes about how this books was compiled to heed the needs of the volunteers who have gone to war. These men had specifically asked to have access to these hymns. The design of the hymn book makes it very accessible and practical to carry because it is small enough to fit into a pocket. Portability is important on the battleground, when a soldier has an uncertain and nomadic existence. It’s just really moving to know, that even when these soldiers have nothing on the battlefield, they requested to have a little book of hymns to give them hope!
Luckily, I don’t think this book will be too hard to preserve for the future. It’s in pretty good shape right now. It’s clearly delicate and people should not turn through it too quickly, but the binding is still intact and it is readable. This little book is similar to other small pocket books produced today. This one is full of religious hymns, but you find a pocket book with different content and topics today.
Based on the item I choose, I don’t the experience of seeing it in person vs. online would’ve made a huge difference. I think seeing something in real time when I am able to grasp the tangibility of it and interact with it is always more special, but I don’t think it gave me a lot more information for this specific item.

Preservation of Sound

In chapters one and two from the Handbook of the Phonograph, the preservation of voices is a topic that is commonly revisited. This notion is seen through a light-hearted lens when Mrs. Openeer hosts a “Voice Guessing Party,” in which guests would record speech onto a phonograph separately and then all guests would listen to the recordings and guess which voice matched to which person. On a darker note, the preservation of voices is highlighted when a woman that lost her child listens to a recording of his voice. In modern day, I think things like home videos parallel recording the voices of loved ones. Preservations of voices helps memories live on. This topic is of intense interest to me because it inherently separates the listener from the speaker and immortalizes someone in a specific time and age. No matter how much someone ages or how many things change, in a recording they are frozen in time. There’s something so beautiful about that. Life is fleeting, live performances vary from time to time, but a recording will always be the same. Today I think the most common form of preserving voices is recorded song and podcasts. I think when the phonograph came out, Edison made it seem like it was targeted for intellectual endeavors like speeches and teaching, but I think nowadays the first things that comes into my mind when I hear the word “recording,” is music.