Making the Perfect Record: From Inscription to Impression in Early Magnetic Recording

The Materiality of the Telegraphone

Ultimately, then, this essay demonstrates how the physical materiality of early magnetic recording was itself enmeshed in popular culture and perception, even if it never generalized or achieved commercial success. Conspiracies on wire and love letters on thread appealed because they represented the impression of evanescent phenomena onto high fidelity, reusable-storage media. Fleeting events and ephemeral voices would leave a trace, which could be captured and played back without audible aberrations. Yet the desire for a trace needed inventing, too. Magnetic storage did not attract attention simply because it was innovative or superior to its phonographic counterparts. It attracted attention because—much like data expressed on contemporary computer screens—it was perceived as an immediate medium for ideal record making.60

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