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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: What sounds from the 20th and early 21st centuries should we save for posterity?

rotary phone

I stumbled across an intriguing headline the other day:

List of 25 sounds saved by Library of Congress

The accompanying article, at CBS News, isn’t quite what I thought it would be. Some of the sounds saved:

2. “Come Down Ma Evenin’ Star,” Lillian Russell (1912)

8. Debut performance with the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein (November 14, 1943)

16. “Green Onions,” Booker T. & the M.G.’s (1962)

25. “Purple Rain,” Prince and the Revolution (1984)

Most of them, in fact, are examples of recorded music, which likely already exist elsewhere and may not be in danger of being lost. I’m not suggesting, of course, that the Library of Congress shouldn’t save these, just that I was expecting the list to be more like “the sound of a Model T being cranked” or “the sound of a needle on a vinyl record before the music starts playing.” Only two examples on the list come close to what I thought the whole list would be:

1. Edison Talking Doll cylinder (1888)

4. “Voices from the Days of Slavery,” Various speakers (1932-1941 interviews; 2002 compilation)

Though it sounds like even No. 4 is a recording that already existed elsewhere (though perhaps would be less likely to survive into the future).
But there are sounds that are part of our daily lives — or sounds that are already disappearing! — that will definitely be lost forever if no one records them and makes a special point of saving them in a library. And they may give future humans — and others — an idea of the aural environment we live in now in a way that could not have been done before the advent of recording technology. What is the sound of a rotary phone being dialed? What is the sound of static on a 1962 RCA television tuned to a dead channel? And there are tons of natural sounds, too, that are being lost as habitats die. What is the sound of the ocean lapping against the Great Barrier Reef?

What sounds from the 20th and early 21st centuries should we save for posterity?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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