Saturday, April 14, 2007

Top Ten Rarely-Heard Sounds Of High Technology

Number Ten: The Eight-Track Clack

The much-maligned eight-track cartridge was the bane of every mobile music lover's existence in the oh-so-funky 1970s. Most albums were released on this format almost as an afterthought; track orders were commonly re-arranged, and some songs were repeated, split in two, or deleted entirely to accommodate the four equal-length programs.

At the end of each program, or "track," a thin metal strip at the splice point of the tape would signal the playback head to move to the next position. For those of you too young to know, this page has a sample of the sound it made:

The Eight-Track Clack

Number Nine: The Ringer Finger

Wayyyy back in the day, you couldn't just walk into any old store and buy a phone. You rented your phones from the phone company, and you owned them for freaking' ever until they broke or something new came along. For most of us growing up in the '70s, that meant we had rotary dial phones.

Most of us got rid of these antiques as soon as tone dialing hit the market. However, my 94-year-old grandmother held on to hers until a few years ago, when the phone company said they were removing the equipment that could translate the pulses into numbers at the Central Office. My grandmother actually had no issue with getting a touch-tone phone, she just didn't see the need to switch because they charged five dollars extra per month for the service!

The Ringer Finger

Number Eight: The Little Drummer Boy

I know, retro beats are all the rage these days. But few musicians are willing go back to the days of the earliest drum machines, which sounded more like kitchen appliances than actual drums.

The Little Drummer Boy

Number Seven: Duck & Cover

Where I grew up in Michigan, they used to test the air raid sirens once a month on Sunday. I haven't heard one in years, but maybe some places still provide their citizens with this eerie reminder of lingering cold war tensions.

Duck & Cover

Number Six: Tones On Tail

On some higher-end prerecorded cassette tapes, there was a series of tones that played at the beginning of the program before the music on each side. Not sure what their purpose was, but they kind of sounded like this:

Tones On Tail

Number Five: Rainy Day People

In Detroit, you used to be able to dial WEA-1212 from any area code to get an up-to-the-minute weather report. There was also another number to call "The Time Lady," as my mom used to say. I don't think these services are generally available any more, but here is a service that will call you with weather reports from outer space:

Rainy Day People

Number Four: The Dangerous Type

Ahh, the pleasing sounds of the manual typerwriter. The click-clacking of keys. The zip-zippering of the paper. The cute little bell that rings at the end of the line.

How quaint. How utterly useless today:

The Dangerous Type

Number Three: Robby The Robot

On a recent trip to Chicago, I got to drive my dad's new Dodge Charger. The voice of the built-in navigation system sounds like the hottest babe you never saw. However, back in the day, any kind of synthesized voice that came out of your car, computer or telephone sounded more like this:

Robby The Robot

Number Two: Lights Out!

Remember those great hygiene and car crash films in Jr. high school? The projector was usually louder than the film's soundtrack, but at least you got to make out with your girlfriend in the back of the class.

Lights Out!

Number One: The Modem Song

Around 1995 or so, I finally gave in and bought a 14.4 modem for my roommate's PowerPC 6100 since he was too cheap get one himself. At first, all we had was eWorld, which even then I knew was not going to last. Eventually, we signed up with AOL, which at the time did not even let you connect to the internet! So for $21.95 a month, you either got to chat with the other 12 people on AOL at the time, or you got to check out their various "channels," which if I recall correctly, had about enough information on them to keep you occupied for at least the better part of a single afternoon.

In any case, the ten-minute process for logging on would go something like this:

Step One: Dial the first number.
Step Two: Get a busy signal.
Step Three: Dial the second number.
Step Four: Get a busy signal
Step Five: Dial the first number again.
Step Six: Get knocked off half-way thru the logon process when your roommate's girlfriend calls him for the 37th time that day on the same line...

Eventually, you would get to hear the modem's glorious symphony of beeps, bings and whirs that meant you were finally connected to the Internet. Since most of us have broadband today, or internal modems at the very least, this is a rarely heard sound today indeed, and I for one couldn't be happier about that.

The Modem Song


Lisa said...

At the tone the time will be 7:32 and 10 seconds beep

Anonymous said...

Seven and Five both still exist where I live. The sirens aren't overtly for air raids, but they are meant to be for any emergencies (mostly tornadoes).

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