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

Marketing the Telegraphone

Read collectively, almost every publication referenced in this essay contains hyperbole, dramatization, or prose bordering on science fiction.59 What’s more, most of these popular publications privilege the pleasing aesthetics of magnetic audio, stressing its noise-free character, ease of erasure, and amenability to productive listening. In so doing, they tend to eclipse or inaccurately depict the particulars of brittle wire, glitchy playback mechanisms, and isolating earpieces. And yet, curiously enough, most of them explain magnetic recording with precision. For instance, recall Reeve’s two-page demonstration in The Dream Doctor. It reads like a technology journal or patent of its time. Although such explanations do not always make for an engaging read, they do demystify aspects of magnetic recording for audiences who are unaware of the process. Plus, they trouble assumptions about the content of popular representations—a troubling that would flatter Reeve’s realist sensibility. His scientific detective stories construct and enact technologies to perform speculative functions without entirely abandoning the material specificities of their processes. This claim is not to say Reeve never stretches the affordances of those particulars. He certainly does. It is to say that materialist histories can be comprehensive without dichotomizing writings as “popular” (or “cultural”) and “expert” (or “technical”). Indeed, when it comes to learning about the stuff of media and technologies, neat distinctions between genres can be misleading.

This page has paths: