The stated goal of the new combination book and compact disc "Pictures of Sound: One Thousand Years of Educed Audio: 980-1980" is impressively brash: "It's a collection that seeks to challenge existing assumptions about what historical audio itself is," writes author and scholar Patrick Feaster.
Specifically, Feaster gathers from throughout history depictions of sound waves and alternative sound recording methods, some from before Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1877, others simply different means of capturing sounds, and presents them along with illustrations and the stories of their creation. Even better, these images, figured Feaster, "could be 'played' just as though they were modern sound recordings," and set to do just that.
He was right, and the result is a fascinating, haunting and indeed defining, new work. For the CD, Feaster and his engineers have, like sonic Dr. Frankensteins, resurrected dead voices and melodies.
Feaster documents devices and methods lost to time, such as phonophotography, sound spectrograms and manometric flames, to capture and convey sounds. In 1877, for example, Eli Whitney Blake (grandson of the inventor of the cotton gin) recorded sound by, according to Feaster, "using a glass photographic plate to record deflections in a beam of light bounced off a mirror attached to the membrane of a telephone mouthpiece."