By bringing nostalgia to play in the complex area of technology, a team of young ex-advertisering executives, Marybeth Ledesma, Phil Hadad and Greg Elwood, have created the ‘Museum of Endangered Sounds’, a wonderfully vintage site that was designed as a sanctuary for the forgotten sounds of the 80s and 90s.
We all remember certain ages in history by means of those unique hallmarks that pin them down to a timeless wall of fame. Rather than having an objective view on the events, we somehow tend to always see the past as a time of innocence and simplicity, no matter what generation we belong to. It may be so as we associate the broader movement of history with our very personal experience of youth. Daughters and grandmothers, fathers and sons, we all regret an epoch that is gone, as we see our younger and less regretful selves at the core of it; and all the machinery, the songs, the clothes, the people, endless series of Presidents and pop icons, provide the idyllic context for our former paper worlds to live on.
“For people born before, let’s say 1985, there is an universe of out-dated technologies to fill the sound record. At one point, we all got together as a culture and agreed that this would be our audio shorthand for a bygone world”, says Chilcutt, bearing in mind a whole generation brought together by the sounds of vibrantly melodious rotary phones and the almost extra-terrestrial beeps of dial-up modems.
Brendan Charles Chilcutt has recently initiated his very own research team and is the proud owner of no less than eight gerbils, a web design aficionado and a video game enthusiast with affinities for Thai yoga. But then again, he is too much of an iconic nerd to be a real person. The brilliantly constructed Chilcutt, bordering on Chuck Closes’ all time geek epitome, Mark, is the fictional product of a young and inspired trio striving to enter the world of advertising. Marybeth Ledesma, Phil Hadad and Greg Elwood, who met while attending Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter, are the creators of the ‘Museum of Endangered Sounds’, a site where an almost extinct world lives on through its echoes. This lovely retirement home contains 30 sounds, all associated with their significant icons, so visitors are just a few clicks away from a portal to the past.
It all started in classic 21st century fashion. “We were in a car with two other people. One of the passengers was texting someone with an iPhone and another one was texting someone with a Blackberry. We stopped at a traffic light and the car ride went really quiet for a moment. We could hear the clicking of the Blackberry keys, but the iPhone didn’t make a peep”. Is the world turning quieter? is the question that launched this virtual crusade meant to regain the forgotten noises of the world and that was soon to become a veritable ‘art project’.
“A modem sounds awful. It’s not pretty or warm or musical” Brendan goes on to say. However, that “is what’s transfixing about a museum of endangered sounds, not that they’re pretty but that they’re ugly. It’s a testament of the human capability to fall in love with anything, no matter how noisy. There’s nothing we can’t miss when it’s gone.”
However, despite the beauty of “the textured rattle and hum of a VHS tape being sucked into the womb of a 1983 JVC HR-7100 VCR” and the “chattering of angels lodged deep within the recesses of an old cathode ray rube TV”, “it’s likely that the world will have seen and heard the last of older machines”, continues Brendan Chilcutt.
The world has never stopped from moving, and particularly now, cultural products are orbiting for an ever shorter period of time around the consumer planet before becoming dustily archaic and entering a ‘no man’s land’ of obsolesce.
Hadad says, “As soon as new gadgets or even new versions of old gadgets are introduced people line up to buy them. And plenty of us think that obtaining these gadgets will make us whole or happier but when we hear something like the old dial-up modem, or the sound of a pay phone, it takes us back to a time when our lives were simpler. And we realized we were pretty happy.”
We are witnessing a permanent chase for ‘clean’ and minimalistic technological ideals that are supposed to ease our lives and become a natural part of them. However, there is no more a problem of genuineness in technology than it is in society. These hi-tech extensions do make life simpler; there must be no doubt about this, however, they also make it more artificial, less available and further away. The struggle to assemble and to explore is no longer an issue; yet, it is the definite level of gratuity in our daily routines provided by the continuous use of technology that seems to impoverish us. As philosopher and semiotician Roland Barthes stated, we are no longer creators, but owners. We live our lives based on the products designed and understood by others without having any form of knowledge on them ourselves. We are no longer in control of the world we live in.
On the other side, most of the objects that gave life to the ‘endangered sounds’ have lost their availability pass in today’s society. Technically speaking, they cannot be activated anymore, as the equipment that made them work does not longer exist.
To be nostalgic about a lost age is not to critique contemporary times, as I discover myself to be a veritable creation of my era, desperately lost without my iPhone and irrecoverably gloomy with no Nikon by my side; however every now and then, I long to experiment the simplicity of a bygone age as a delicate and rare occurrence.
So, by all means, enjoy the noise. Like John Cage said, “Sound is acting (…) what it does is it gets louder and quieter, and it gets higher and lower, and it gets longer and shorter. I don’t want them to be psychological, I don’t want a sound to pretend that is a bucket, or that is President, or that is in love with another sound. I just want it to be a sound’