This week, for my installation at Lost Language which opens on Friday, I’ve been listening through and editing down about twenty-two hours of audio from found reel-to-reel tapes. Some of the recordings have been phenomenal.
It seems like something that people wouldn’t really do now – to enjoy simply recording your own voice. The excitement I remember as a child making radio shows on my Fisher Price cassette recorder has been superceded by video capability on mobile phones; but as there is no physical object, as such, on which the material is stored, it risks being lost (unless it’s shared on YouTube). The joy of tape is that , fifty years after it’s been recorded, it’s still accessible.
One tape in particular was thrilling to listen to. The audio journal of a military family from 1958 to 1965. We hear about young Stella being sent to the convent school for the first time; Philip being locked in the cupboard for being naughty; and occasionally the whole family break into song.
Singing on tape seems popular. Other recordings, which I date to the 1960s also due to the snippets of radio programmes, feature children singing religious songs. Or the same kids singing very much non-religious songs like “My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling, I want you to play with my ding-a-ling.”
My particular favourite is a recording of a young man with a pretty good voice mucking around singing Beach Boys and Elvis hits and, later, breaking into a gospel hymn and this rhyme: