Museum of Endangered Sounds

Museum of not-so-endangered soundsRecently, this website has been doing the rounds on sound and archive-related circuits. The Museum of Endangered Sounds was created in »January of 2012 as a way to preserve the sounds made famous by [Brendan Chilcutt’s] favorite old technologies and electronics equipment.«

This blend of digital amnesia and our sonic past should be right up my alley, yet navigating the site I’m uncomfortably writhing in my chair. There is a playful and nostalgic element to this that I emphasise with. It’s fun going back to those – even at the time – terrible ICQ notifications or the operational noises of the ZX Spectrum computer. I can even enjoy the still very present sounds of my life, such as the turntable, film camera or cassette tape hiss. With fear of sounding like grumpy old man, I think there is something dangerous in this idosyncratic approach to preservation. This very narrowly curated selection of sounds does not a museum make.

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Just as James Scott will tell you that we need not worry about the preservation of Super Mario, many of the sounds collected by Chilcutt are in no way in danger of being lost. The Nokia ringtones, the Tetris soundtrack, the vinyl turntable and the Windows 95 startup sounds are not “advocate-less items” – we’re set on major OS startup sounds.

And this is where The Museum of Endangered Sounds becomes trite or even harmful. It canonises our recent technological past in a mere 33 popular sounds. Since every inclusion to the archive is an exclusion of something else, projects like these instill a false sense of security that the past is “taken care of.” If you want to see endangered sounds look to Jason Scott and Archive.org’s work on netlabels and software emulation/collection, or Lori Emerson’s work on the Media Archaeology Lab.

2 Replies to “Museum of Endangered Sounds”

  1. Thanks, that was interesting. The way I see it, a museum should be able to explain something enlightenmenting about objects and the cultures of those objects who have no previous experience of them. So when I see arrowheads, I should be helped to understand what they mean to those cultures which created them, even if I never crafted an arrowhead, or I’d my community’s livelihood never depended on manufacture and use of arrowheads. I agree with you that the Museum of Endangered Sounds is nostalgia, and possibly conversational pieces for people who’s lives have at some point been intertwined with those sounds. It’s a museum of self.

    A really cute one, and necessarily somwthing I enjoy, since it talks about me. But, maybe I wouldn’t call it a museum, in its present form. A Wunderkammer.

    • Thanks! You actually touch on another aspect of The Museum of Endangered Sounds that I would challenge – the fact that this *isn’t* a comprehensive experience of what it was like to use/hear dial-up internet or use a typewriter. There are many other sounds affixed to these objects; the dull click of buttons on the Nokia 3310 or the ding of reaching the typewriters right margin.
      I like the idea of this as a wunderkammer more than a museum. The problems are definitely more about the discourse, than the (sound) objects themselves.

      These experiences are also more than their sounds – they’re sensously intertwined. And I think that’s where nostalgia kicks in.

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