Remediating the Telephone
As is well known, in the usual phonographs the vibrations of air transmitted to a membrane are caused, by means of suitable mechanical parts, to make indentations in a receptive body, which indentations can cause a membrane to repeat the said vibrations by suitable mechanical means. Mechanical alterations of such bodies, however, give rise to disturbing noises, which apart from the expense of such apparatus is one of the principal reasons why the phonograph has not come more extensively into use. (1906, 1)
Indeed, the affinities with Smith’s article (published just eleven years earlier) are uncanny. And they revolve around the aesthetics of recording and playback—around the “disturbing noises” problem. Nonetheless, speculating about how Smith influenced Poulsen, or offering an origin story for magnetic recording, is more than a futile exercise; it also distracts from the traction Poulsen’s telegraphone gained in various communities of practice, where the “weird instrument” described by Stearns in a 1906 issue of Technical World Magazine quickly became a spectacle.