Thursday, November 21, 2013

On This Date in History: Recorded Sound

On this date in history, one hundred and thirty-six years ago, Thomas Alva Edison announced the invention of a talking machine, later named the phonograph, a tool to record voices and the sound of birdsong, exquisite musical performances, and the noise that now makes up a day.

Right now, Diane Rehm and several guests urge me to support returning U. S. servicemen affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), unemployment, and strained personal relationships. The dryer thumps rhythmically as the sheets spin dry while the water softener hisses to treat our water so that it will not corrode our pipes. The coffee pot adds soprano notes when it signals that it will turn off its warmer just ahead of the dishwasher’s alert that it has done its work.

Outside, the world beyond is even noisier, especially during the summer season when big Merc motors growl a large cruiser into life and jet ski engines, like motorcycles on asphalt. reverberate across the cove. How much noise we’ve added with every generation and iteration of Edison!

But Edison’s original gift has also given us audio-books, unabridged and sometimes read by the author. I enjoyed Beloved this way, and now, when reading snippets, I hear Toni Morrison’s nuances and rhythms. I understand the syntax as melody, and language as lyrics.

From Khaled Hosseini’s reading of The Kite Runner, I learned how to say Baba and Kabul and to enjoy their softer, lovelier sounds. Now I translate in my mind when I hear newscasters speak of Kabul, and I mourn the loss of such beautiful places as those Hosseini describes, nostalgia imbued in every passage.

As their inventor, Jeffrey Eugenides understands his narrative choices, its shifts and turns, better than anyone, and thus, his reading of the award-winning novel, Middlesex, becomes a conversation between his narrators and readers. I felt as if he was seated in my living room telling me a long epic tale.

Even when others read an authors’ work, we enjoy special delights. Sissy Spacek as Scout, the narrator of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, does not manufacture a Southern drawl. Unlike some actresses who learned English in other regions of the world, Spacek, a native Texan, speaks naturally and drawls correctly the lines I love so much. 

Frank Muller performs Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses with respect and appreciation. He seems to ride the plains with the characters and ache as they suffer. His performance renders McCarthy’s language as poetry.

One could do worse than listen to the sounds of the words that authors choose so carefully and wisely. I recommend it without reservation. We hear the rhythms more clearly. We understand the power of words bouncing upon other words, their similarities strengthening them and their differences distinguishing them.

Reading Challenge:

Listen to language online, using YouTube or other sites, including www.amerianrhetoric.org. Download and/or stream one free audio-book. Choose a favorite and experience it anew.

Writing Challenge:


Read aloud a passage from your own work. Let the sounds teach you about revision.