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ARSCLIST  February 2013

ARSCLIST February 2013

Subject:

Re: The Walt Whitman - Edison Controversy

From:

ADRIAN COSENTINI <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 11 Feb 2013 17:39:53 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (172 lines)

I've worked on several hundred cylinders. The earliest I worked on was from 1886, an Edison white wax. There is no way that this recording is from a cylinder. 
Someone is reading the poem with cylinder noise mixed in. That voice is an electrical recording.

At some point in time there might have been a cylinder recording of Whiteman, but this ain't it.

ADRIAN COSENTINI
[log in to unmask]
http://www.sawneybean.com/AudioTransformations/

On Feb 11, 2013, at 10:36 AM, Steve Ramm wrote:

> 
> This is just one of the articles in the newest issue of the Edison Papers  
> Project Newsletter. I'm not sure it settles the controversy but it's worth  
> reading. (The full newsletter is located at: _http://tinyurl.com/a2tdl3d_ 
> (http://tinyurl.com/a2tdl3d) 
> 
> Steve Ramm
> 
> 
> Edison and Poetry: Did Edison Record Walt  Whitman?
> 
> In the early 1980s, the scholar Larry Don Griffin was conducting research 
> for  a paper on the quality of Walt Whitman's voice when he came across a 
> cassette  tape in the Midlands (Tex.) College Library that purported to include 
> a  recording of the poet reciting the first four lines of his poem 
> "America":  
> America 
> Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
> All, all alike endear'd, capable,  rich,
> Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
> A grand, sane,  towering, seated Mother,
> Chair'd in the adamant of Time. 
> Walt Whitman (1888)  
> _Listen  to the recording, courtesy of The Whitman Archive _ 
> (http://www.whitmanarchive.org/multimedia/index.html)  
> The cassette, which also included recordings of James Whitcomb Riley, Edna  
> St. Vincent Millay, and William Carlos Williams, was commercially produced 
> in  1974 and made generally available to libraries across the country. It 
> had not  elicited any real scholarly interest, however, until Griffin 
> mentioned the  Whitman snippet in an article in the Winter 1992 edition of the Walt 
> Whitman  Quarterly Review. Griffin's revelation soon excited a lively debate 
> on  whether the recording was authentic.  
> The question of authenticity immediately led to the question of provenance, 
> which eventually led to Thomas Alva Edison. The first clue in the chain 
> emerged  from the cassette itself. The narrator who introduces the Whitman 
> recording also  introduces himself—Leon Pearson, the brother of the columnist 
> Drew Pearson. He  notes further that technicians at NBC had transferred the 
> Whitman recording to  tape from a wax cylinder.  
> The Library of Congress, which is a repository of the NBC archives, was 
> able  to identify the program— "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow"—originally 
> broadcast in  1951. The wax cylinder in question, in the meantime, was purported to 
> have come  from the collection of a retired elevator operator and collector 
> of such  recordings, Roscoe Haley of New York, who died in 1982. 
> Essentially, the chain  of provenance ends there. The original wax cylinder, which 
> Pearson had said was  badly damaged, has not been found. It could simply have 
> disintegrated, as some  wax cylinders do if they are not cared for properly. 
> Nor could researchers trace  the cylinder to Haley's collection. The only 
> evidence that this is where NBC got  it is the broadcast itself, though it 
> seems unlikely that Pearson would have  fabricated such a detail.  
> It is at this point in the story, in 1992, that Edison comes into the  
> picture. Archivists at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park at West Orange  
> turned up two documents relating to a potential recording of Walt Whitman. 
> Both  are dated 14 Feb. 1889. _The first is from Edison's private secretary 
> Alfred O. Tate to the  Boston-based journalist and Whitman admirer Sylvester 
> Baxter_ 
> (http://edison.rutgers.edu/NamesSearch/SingleDoc.php3?DocId=LB028222) . Tate writes  that Edison himself had received Baxter's letter of 8 
> February "in regard to  obtaining a phonographic record of the poet Whitman." He 
> then notes further that  Edison "is very much obliged for your suggestion, 
> and will endeavor to carry it  out."  
> _Later the same day, Tate prepared a letter for Edison to Jesse H.  
> Lippincott, the head of the North American Phonograph Co._ 
> (http://edison.rutgers.edu/NamesSearch/SingleDoc.php3?DocId=LB028223)  Lippincott had  recently 
> purchased the Edison Phonograph Co. and represented Edison's phonograph  
> interests. Tate attached Baxter's original letter and asked, on Edison's behalf,  
> if Lippincott wished "to act upon this gentlemen's suggestion, and obtain a  
> phonogram from the poet Whitman?"  
> Edison representatives during this period are known to have made a number 
> of  phonograms of prominent figures, including P. T. Barnum (1890), British 
> Prime  Minister William Gladstone (1888), Otto von Bismarck (1889), and Field 
> Marshall  Helmuth von Moltke (1889), as well as poets Robert Browning 
> (1889) and Alfred,  Lord Tennyson (1890). They were chiefly used for the purpose 
> of demonstrating  the phonograph. A recording of Whitman likely would have 
> been used for the same  purpose.  
> Lippincott's response, unfortunately, has not been found, and to date the  
> tantalizing paper trail ends with Edison's letter. With no ironclad proof as 
> to  the recording's authenticity, scholars are left to draw their own 
> conclusions,  marshaling such arguments as they can. Those who doubt the 
> recording is really  Whitman, beginning with historian Allen Koenigsberg, have 
> argued that since the  wax cylinder can't be found, there is no proof that it is 
> an Edison cylinder at  all, so that even if Edison had followed up on his 
> desire to record Whitman, the  recording in hand—whatever it may be—might not 
> have been made for Edison. Then,  too, since no follow-up to the Edison 
> correspondence has come to light, there is  nothing to show that Edison made 
> any recording of Whitman.  
> Koenigsberg encapsulated his findings in an article "Walt Whitman (1819–
> 1892)  Speaks?" which appeared in the Winter 1992 edition of Antique Phonograph 
> Monthly. He notes that in the extensive contemporaneous documentation of  
> Whitman's life from 1889-1892, no one has found any mention of a recording. 
> This  documentation includes not only Whitman's own correspondence but 
> extensive  letters and memoirs by Whitman's friends and frequent newspaper 
> reports, as well  as the nearly daily account of Whitman's activities in Camden, 
> N.J., and  Philadelphia that his friend Horace Traubel kept.  
> Koeningsberg and other critics have also pointed to the high quality of the 
> recording as evidence that it is a fake. Analysts for both the Library of  
> Congress and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives consulted on the case and 
> agreed that the clarity of the recording was beyond what could be achieved 
> in  1889 or 1890. Experts at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives also 
> noted that  there was much more bass response than one could expect from a 
> century-old  recording. Of course, the recording was not taken directly from the 
> wax  cylinder, but rather from the tape of a 1951 radio program that had 
> presumably  been rerecorded on cassette in 1974. Nonetheless, the sound 
> analysis along with  the documentation difficulties led Koeningsberg to conclude 
> that "the supposed  Whitman recording is a fascinating fake."  
> Those who believe the recording is authentic, beginning with Ed Folsom, the 
> editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, have developed counter  
> arguments. In his article "The Whitman Recording," which appeared in the Spring  
> 1992 edition of the WWQR, Folsom reveals that the clarity of the  recording 
> might actually connect it to Edison. He quotes his own expert, Dave  
> Beauvais of Magic Media Services, Amherst, Mass., who says that in making his  
> cylinders, Edison used a vertical cut technique that made "near-perfect  
> equalization" inherent in his process. Beauvais writes that the analysts at the  
> Library of Congress are "certainly not the first ones to disbelieve their ears 
> when stumbling upon vertical-cut artifacts."  
> William Grimes, who covered the 1992 controversy for the New York  Times, 
> notes that the voice heard on the recording has a marked New York  accent in 
> certain words and is consistent with Traubel's description of  Whitman's 
> "strong and resonant" tenor. Beauvais meanwhile concludes that the  accent is 
> "a soft mix of Tidewater Atlantic and an Adirondack dilution of the  
> contemporary New York accent." One does note a certain southern lilt mixed with  a 
> more Northern accent, a hybrid that perhaps derives from Whitman's New York  
> upbringing and from the many years he spent in Washington, D.C., in the 
> 1860s  and 1870s, then still in many ways a Southern city. As Beauvais notes, 
> "it  strains credulity" to think that someone would create such an accent in 
> order to  perpetrate a fraud.  
> Further evidence in favor of the recording's authenticity comes from the 
> poem  itself. "America" is not one of Whitman's better-known works, and its 
> obscurity,  says Grimes, militates against the idea that it would be a "likely 
> choice for  anyone concocting a fake." The poem would have been a much more 
> likely choice  for Whitman himself to have made, though. "America" first 
> appeared in the 11  Feb. 1888 edition of the New York Herald and was then 
> reprinted in an annex to  the 1888 edition of Leaves of Grass. For Whitman, 
> then, the poem would  have been new and therefore fresh in his consciousness in 
> 1889 or 1890, the very  time when Edison was contemplating making a 
> phonogram.  
> Although no correspondence has as yet come to light beyond the two letters 
> of  February 1889, there is another interesting connection between Edison 
> and  Whitman in this same period. In May 1889, Edison filed a famous lawsuit 
> against  both his erstwhile best friend Ezra Gilliland and his own personal 
> attorney John  C. Tomlinson for having entered into a secret side deal with 
> Lippincott in order  to profit from the sale of Edison's phonograph rights. 
> Edison felt betrayed and  swindled after it became apparent to him that 
> Gilliland and Tomlinson, who had  acted as his agents in selling the Edison 
> Phonograph Co., had acted to benefit  themselves.  
> Edison hired the prominent New York attorney and free-thinker Robert G.  
> Ingersoll to help with his lawsuit. Ingersoll also happened to be a good 
> friend  and warm admirer of the poet Walt Whitman. It was Ingersoll who gave the 
> keynote  address at Whitman's seventieth birthday celebration in 
> Philadelphia on 31 May  1890 and later gave the poet's funeral oration in 1892. By the 
> time he gave the  birthday address, Ingersoll would have been 
> well-acquainted with Edison's  phonograph, having served as the inventor's attorney in the 
> phonograph lawsuit  the previous year. It is not inconceivable that 
> Ingersoll arranged for Whitman  to record a few lines on the occasion of his 
> birthday.  
> It would not have been difficult for Ingersoll to make such an recording.  
> Edison had spent a good deal of effort in 1887 and 1888 making his 
> phonograph  more "user-friendly." As Paul Israel has noted in his book Edison: A Life 
> of  Invention, the new phonograph was "designed for use by a single person  
> working in the quiet of an office." It was also highly portable, so that  
> Ingersoll himself or anyone else might have brought along a phonograph and  
> recorded Whitman at his birthday celebration or at any time after 1888. 

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