Sunday, 2 November 2008

Ooh, it's like hearing a ghost!

Yet another popular culture reference to 'voices from beyond the grave' here, which we've written about before, specifically;
Last year the BBC broadcast a documentary entitled ‘How The Edwardians Spoke.’ It described how recordings of the speech of British POWs made by the German army during the First World War had recently been uncovered and it featured an expert in accents analysing the recordings and commenting upon the evolution of English dialects from that time till now. The highlight of that programme, much like what we see now, was the tracking down of the families of the men recorded and the playing of the recordings to them. Despite the fact that many of the men were not long dead and despite the families having many photographs of them, even as young men, listening to the recordings invariably left the families in tears, remarking that “It’s like he’s in the room!” The mechanical reason for this over-identification with the voice is, in my view, simple. When we look at a photograph there is a cognitive jump we have to make in order to identify the small two-dimensional image with the flesh and blood that it represents. On the other hand, a sound recording is both temporal and actual; temporal as it moves, it is encountered within the same duration of time as the person who generated it and actual because, disregarding the artefacts of the recording process, the replayed voice is in terms of oscillations in air pressure identical to its original utterance, hence the family’s retort “It’s like hearing a ghost!”.
The immaterial qualities of sound, the disembodied voice, its inherent repetition, its almost perfect reproducibility and its embodiment of the minimal gap between presence and absence, they reveal, accentuate, embody the truth of a certain aspect of being, namely, the not-here in the here.

We've been away a while. More to follow.

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