Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Howard Home Recording Disc (1941)

I found this particular 8" home recorded acetate disc about 15 years ago in central Virginia. I have always been drawn to the great Deco typeface of the Howard label. Buttressed by 4 horizontal lines like the signage of a hotel marquee; the underwriter's laboratories inc. seal hangs overhead like a moon, a helium balloon, whatever ; Howard unphased by the the italic tension circling the periphery.

I can imagine a pitchman rattling off these four points in rapid, punctuated succession like some sales mantra: "Type 8C! Metal Base! Slow Burning! Home Recording Disc!".

I've seldom played this record - it's a train wreck to play back - but I have thought about it often and think of it still. It's a structural anthropologist's wet dream - private, taboo laden leisure life documented on one side and the industrious public life of commerce on the other.

Side "Dirty" (12/25/41) - a keyhole into the barely audible ribald songs, good time cussing, inebriated laughter of some Tom, Dick and Harry -in this case Jim, Wau (Wall? Hank? Hak? You tell me) and Fred. Side "Commercial" (12/26/41) - same guys doing ads for their plumbing and vacuum cleaner outfits. It's easy to take this stuff for granted in an age when this dichotomy is getting leveled day in and day out and amateur hour on the youtube stands as much of a chance of going viral and getting picked up in meta news cycles as anything else but time was...

Over the years, I've amassed a small but enjoyable collection of home recorded acetates almost always dating from the 30s and 40s- often featuring letters to loved ones, birthday wishes, mom and pop advertisements, sacred hymns of devotion, cantorial services, pop piano ditties. Powerfully ordinary.

Although my collection and appetite for these orphaned audio dispatches of the everyday has never gotten as obsessive as the visual analog featured in the great doc Other People's Pictures , I never pass up a Presto, an Audio-Disc, a Wilcox-Gay, a Lyon & Healy, a Coronet, a Duodisc, a Selmer, a Philco, a Zephyr, a Howard or any of the other myriad manufacturers who issued these recording blanks more than half a century ago. I suspect my motive comes in some measure from the desire to hear unofficial history unfold and in its unfolding, the anxious, clumsy and uncertain history of the recording process itself.

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