Remember the sound of your old telephone? Or that of VHS tape being pushed into the video recorder? How long has it been since you last heard these sounds? Probably, a while. Unless you’ve stumbled upon this website which defies time and aims to store those once ordinary sounds in a safe record, available to everyone. When Brendan Chilcutt opened The Museum Of Endangered Sounds, he surely knew the idea would have amazed, but surely it also made lots of people understand how many sounds we have abandoned in the past without realising so.
Many things from the past seem obsolete today, but world trends always tend to bring back elements like clothes from the 1960s, second-hand books, or perhaps even cars under the convenient and often lucrative label of ‘vintage‘, so nothing is ever really forgotten. But what about sounds? The first example of bringing back sounds from the past that comes to mind is the sampling of old songs in newly released records. This way the old sound is included in a new structure and is revisited (not so vintage, then). However, sounds we thought we would never hear again have been included among trendy ringtones for the newest generations of mobile phone, meaning that perhaps the newest technologies makes us feel a bit guilty of having left those sounds behind. Could it be that perhaps technology is too eager to please humans and to please them fast, we have lost the value of getting things by going through some sort of process? It could be that gratification is instant and perhaps illusory too. Enough with philosophy!
I can’t help but wonder which sounds we take for granted today will slowly fade and someday become a memory of the past. Television, telephone and the internet are already being merged into one device, something unthinkable just a few decades ago, so this is perhaps where technology is headed. Efforts are being made to save sounds, what we heard in the past; but what about the other human senses? Can you taste Henry VIII’s strawberry tarts today? Can you smell roses the same way of those who planted them hundred years before? Can you see the world the way they saw it in the XVII Century? Can you touch an old chair and not notice how worm-eaten it is? The answer is yes. And no.
Because most of the times you can get an adaptation, a revisited version of something that is no more. And in the most favourable cases, subjectivity makes it harder to tell. This is because we all belong to our own age, and as much as I like the past and I like to wonder how things were at the touch, sounded, looked, tasted, smelled, it can never be the same 100%.
This to say, we can all enjoy a little trip to the past, but without getting lost! Or we will not be able to have someone wondering about the age we live in as present once it becomes the past.