Friday, December 19, 2008

The unexpected side effect of recorded sound

Recorded sound has only been around for a short while. Technically, the first recorded human voice was that of Eduard Leon Scott on his phonautograph in 1860, but there was really no method to play it back until 2008, through the magic of computers.

It was Thomas Edison's phonograph cylinder, invented in 1877, that brought down from the gods the ability to record and play back the human voice. One hundred and Thirty-one years might seem like a long time, but in the centuries of human evolution, it's just a blip. Prior to this, the only way to hear the human voice was to be in the same room with it...or at least within earshot. After 1877, with wax cylinders readily available, the human voice could be heard over and over again.

Before this, we could only hear a song a particular way once.

Before this, we could not listen to a singer's intonation and intensity over and over until finally every breath, catch, or hiccup was carved into our muscle memory.

Before this, we could not lip sync.

I'm sure that in a drawing room in 1704, a parlor game existed in which one mouth would try to simulate the motions of another. However, without the technology for repeated listening, it could never come off as complete. The illusion could not be satisfying. What if Wendell Nutbush abruptly belched behind the curtain as Emiline Teasebussle mimicked the final strains of "La costanza d'Ulisse"?

Once a voice is recorded, the interpretation cannot be changed. We can anticipate the intake of air, a soaring note, a warbling melisma.

The subversion of one's own voice for another used to be a sign of certain demon possession, or evidence, during the seance, that a medium had advanced to the other side. Now, it is a common form of entertainment.

Does anyone remember the show in the 80's game show, "Puttin' on the Hits" hosted by Allen Fawcett? It was glorious.

For those of you who don't know, or perhaps have blocked it from your memory, contestants would dress up, lip sync to their favorite songs, and then be judged by a panel of straight-to-syndication sitcom extras on originality, appearance, and lip sync.

Below is perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of a contestant's performance. It is rehearsed, polished and shows sparks of actual ability. 3-D (his stage name) doesn't just glom onto Paul Hardcastle's beat...he owns it and makes it a part of something new.

I only saw 3-D's performance once, but it lingered in my memory banks for years. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to see it again. It is every bit as emmer effin cool as I remember.

Behold, The unintended outgrowth of recorded sound...

(UPDATE: You know what? I just watched this again and this fella is really good. Thank you for not serving up a shattered childhood notion of cool, 3-D!)


Don Hall said...

He really is pretty stupendous and only overshadowed by the hair of the host.

Dianna said...

Wait a the host the guy from "The Blue Lagoon"?????

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