Can we lose a sound?

I was watching an old TV cop show online (by “old” I mean from the mid-2000s). I had the subtitles on, and the words “sound of a tape rewinding” appeared on the screen. There I was watching Netflix, two levels of technology removed from the character rewinding a tape. It occurred to me that entire generations of people may see this phrase and not know what it means. We will have lost a sound.

But can we really lose a sound?

A videotape (By Gnnwikifikator via wikimedia commons

The sound of a videocassette rewinding. (Be kind, rewind!) The sound of a turntable needle scratching a record. A computer actually dialing onto the internet. Or, on an entirely different note, the clicks and ticks of now silent, undecipherable languages.

If you’re worried or saddened by this, The Museum Of Endangered Sounds is out to fill the void. (Its founder, Brendan Chilcutt, uses an appropriately nostalgic AOL email address.) Launched in January 2012, the website allows users to replay the old technological sounds they grew up with.

Though the sounds themselves are fascinating to hear, recordings of disembodied technological noise seem to point out what makes some of us nostalgic about Blockbuster’s old adage, “Be Kind, Rewind” in the first place.

How many of us, running late, finished a video and then grudgingly rewound it while watching the clock, mentally calculating how long it would take to get to the nearest store? Rewinding was a chore. And the advent of the DVD was a beautiful, non-rewinding wonder. And then came streaming, which didn’t even involve putting something into a player.

Technology can be pretty great. It’s not the sounds that make some nostalgic, but the loss. Hearing Chilcutt’s recordings from earlier times (the original Pacman predates me) seem alien out of context.

I like to imagine the Voyager Golden Records, which were sent into space aboard the Voyager in 1977. Imagine it: Our sounds launched into space, spiraling ever outward—a technological time capsule, a ship in a bottle. Imagine them returning to Earth in the far, far distant future. Us, too technologically removed to play them. (I’m picturing a Wall-E-like future for us all, here.)

The Voyage Golden Record strikes me as vaguely Leonardo da Vinci. (via Wikimedia Commons)

The thing about sounds is that they’re meant to be heard not stored. And the further we get from their source, the more distant and alien they feel. But the next time you get that ‘90s Be Kind Rewind nostalgia, look up. Somewhere out there technology far older and voices far distant is drifting on a record.


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