What's That Sound? Preserving The Noise Of Old Gadgets

Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks with Phil Hadad and Marybeth Ledesma, the creators of a new website called the Museum of Endangered Sounds. Their aim is to preserve the noises of obsolete gadgets.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Technology is making a lot of things quieter. A dozen years ago, we recorded a lot of our interviews on magnetic tape.

LIANE HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

SIMON: Rolling the reels back and forth at high speed made a memorable whirr and human voices sound like chipmunks. You'd hear the thunk of buttons. These days, people write words on surfaces. No more click and clatter from typewriter keys. Even the scratch of a pen is getting a little faint. A group of graduate students hear sounds disappearing from our world, and they have created a website called The Museum of Endangered Sounds.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We're sorry. Your call cannot be completed as dialed.

SIMON: It preserves the sound of everything from the ring of Nokia phones...

(SOUNDBITE OF NOKIA RING TONE)

SIMON: ...to dot matrix printers...

(SOUNDBITE OF A DOT MATRIX PRINTER)

SIMON: ...to a VCR accepting a VHS tape in its bay.

(SOUNDBITE OF VHS TAPE LOADING INTO VCR)

SIMON: Two of the website's creators, Marybeth Ledesma and Phil Hadad, told us of the forgotten sounds they remember most fondly.

PHIL HADAD: I really love the 56k dialup modem.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIALUP MODEM)

HADAD: I just remember staring at that thing and listening to those sounds and wondering what's going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIALUP MODEM)

HADAD: You know, everyone kind of had a little frustration, I think, at times with that. But now we sort of can look back at it and laugh and say, you know, hey, we used to have to wait to get online.

MARYBETH LEDESMA: My favorite is the cassette rewinding.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE REWINDING)

LEDESMA: Because it reminds me of when I was growing up how I used to record my favorite songs on the radio that would play at night. And that was like the old way of making your own mix tape.

SIMON: What's important about these sounds?

HADAD: That they're disappearing, first off.

LEDESMA: Yeah.

HADAD: And we kind of arrived at this idea in making this site that it's the memories that're tied to the sounds for most people.

SIMON: So we put the question to you. What obsolete sounds conjure up your fondest memories?

(SOUNDBITE OF RINGING; ROTARY PHONE DIALING)

ANGIE JAJELO: Hi, my name is Angie Jajelo(ph), and I am in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. The tick-swish of my grandmother's rotary phone. That's exactly the sound. Can you imagine how long it used to take us? I mean, I sort of miss having that moment to compose my thoughts. You could actually frame that message in the time it was going to take you to dial that number.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER CLICKING)

CARLA BLAZEK: My name is Carla Blazek. I'm a photographer in Spokane, Washington. For me, the typewriter, because, I mean, ever since I was like 5 years old I would write books on the little old Remington that we had. Especially with the old typewriters, you had to put some force into your fingers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER DINGING)

BLAZEK: Oh, the ding. Oh, I'd forgotten about that sound. There's nostalgia right there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Some of the sounds we don't hear so much anymore. This is NPR News.

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