Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sounds in Space


Yesterday my sister sent me this picture, taken over fifty years ago, of my mother playing me a record* on my parents' brand new stereophonic hi-fi phonograph.**



I had two LPs at the time: Disney's Alice in Wonderland and Let's All Sing with the Chipmunks. However, I suspect that the LP my mother is about to play is the stereo demonstration record that came with the phonograph: Sounds in Space.



I loved this record. I asked my parents to play it for me again and again until I'm sure they were sick to death of it. I loved the way the sound effects filled the room, and the sound of the narrator's voice and footsteps moving from one speaker to the other. But most of all, I loved the music—especially Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kij√© and Lena Horne's spectacular live recording of Day In, Day Out, both of which I still love and now have on my iPod.

In this age of instant digital music, iPods, and ear buds, it's hard to imagine the excitement of a four-year-old boy hearing this album for the first time, having previously only heard recorded music from the tinny speaker of a portable record player or transistor radio. Here's a link to the first track on the record. Listen to it, and try to imagine that you are a four-year-old child hearing recorded stereophonic sound for the first time.

(By the way, that distinctive, resonant voice explaining stereophonic sound is Ken Nordine, who was pretty famous in the day for his recordings of beat poetry over jazz background music. He also served as Linda Blair's vocal coach for The Exorcist.)

Footnotes

*Years and years ago, in the last century—before the Internet or iPods—music used to come on vinyl discs, also called "records." A small disc, called a "45" because it played at 45 revolutions per minute, held a single song on each side. Larger discs, called "LPs" for "long-playing," played at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute and held an entire album. There were also "EPs," which were...oh, never mind. Look it up on Wikipedia, if you're really interested.

**A "phonograph" was a device for playing records. "Hi-fi" meant superior, or "high fidelity" sound, and "stereophonic"...never mind. You can look that up, too.

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