A kind listener recently unloaded a few crates of wonderful music on us, and one of the odder treasures the collection yielded was a souvenir record of a child speaking from the Empire State Building's Observatory deck, probably sometime in the 1940s.
The record itself is a 6" acetate disc, just like the one seen in this photo. From what I've been able to piece together through googling "Voice-O-Graph" and "Empire State Souvenir Record", these hastily-recorded discs were a popular memento with which visitors to the Evil Apple could recall their trip. What better way to bring back the fond memories of NYC than with a sixty second account in your own voice?
Intrigued, I threw the 78 RPM disc on a turntable in WFMU's production studio and was instantly assaulted by some of the most painful surface noise ever to hit my eardrums. There was definitely a voice buried within the clatter of the badly worn groove, but it was too distorted to pick out any discernible words or phrases. I was fairly certain it was the voice of the child, but one of unknown gender. Emboldened by the steaming cup of coffee I'd just downed and also by my vague knowledge of the sound editing software our studio computer is equipped with, I set out to skim off as much of the surface noise as possible, in the hopes of revealing the message of this traveler from long-ago. After a few rounds of reducing hiss, taking noise samples, and bumping up amplitude, I was rewarded with the most pleasing result of a little girl recounting her trip to the Empire State Observatory.
The audio filtering had done a fine job of removing the grating surface noise, but had (weirdly) altered other aural elements in such a way as to give the girl's voice an entrancing and otherworldly quality. Scott Williams walked in while I was working on it, and upon hearing it said: "This is what it'll sound like when robots have ghosts". [Download MP3]