"what the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially".
roland barthes, camera lucida 1980
home recording discs are like snapshots. they are small records recorded in a record booth (see photo above); or at home, with smaller portable units that looked a bit like record players. in most cases a minute or two of sound was recorded onto a plastic covered cardboard 'blank'.
when i was 5 or 6 i remember recording two sides in a booth in an arcade down in san pedro. on one disc i did a howard cosell impersonation calling a fight between muhammad ali and joe frazier. on the other i sang an unaccompanied version of bad bad leroy brown....(yes, i still have these, no i won't post them...)
like digging through mountains of mediocre snapshots and seldom finding a nugget, the majority of home recorded discs are pretty dull. an audio letter telling a son in the army about on what's going on at home, or worse, a recording of a big band song off the radio (an early attempt at killing music with home recording). once in awhile, like the hunting story filled disc i posted a few months ago, you get a gem, and over the last year or so, i've been fortunate to find a number of pretty great little discs.
there's something about an honest amateur that works. i believe it is the feeling that the folks speaking, singing, or making, are sincere in their attempt. if they miss the mark, there's generally a level of innocence that can be pretty powerful, and at times, more so than a schooled approach. it's not a question of better, but of having access to the presence of a person in a state of absolute vulnerability and humanness. like standing in front of a camera, there's the potential for either a "ham" or absolute awkwardness when confronted with a microphone for the first time.
like the photograph in barthes camera lucida, an audio recording also stops time and allows for numerous repetitions of a moment that in 'real life' was never repeated. the difference, i think, is that listening to someone's voice is more intimate as an experience than looking at a picture, and connects one more vividly back to a specific moment. listening with eyes closed, one is transported to another time, where voices are heard beneath a surface of noise, almost as they were in life. unlike the complex flattening of life onto a small piece of paper called a photograph, sound can still project from a speaker out into space as it might have when originally spoken from mouths. certainly it is detached from faces and original rooms, but in terms of the voice still being a voice, it remains relatively intact.
unlike fading in a photo, where information is subtracted, the distance of time in a disc recording is generally felt through addition. photographic images evaporate, recordings get covered in noise. handling and material disintegration fuels a mountain of defects that eventually renders the original voice mute in favor of the voice of the object's tactile surface. images evaporate, but audio get buried alive...
click here to listen to one of my favorite recent finds...