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ARSCLIST  February 2013

ARSCLIST February 2013

Subject:

Re: The Walt Whitman - Edison Controversy

From:

Steven Smolian <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Mon, 11 Feb 2013 18:39:19 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (211 lines)

Has anyone checked to see if it was issued on one of Eddie Smith's records?
It sounds like one of his stunts.  Seriously.

Steve Smolian

-----Original Message-----
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of ADRIAN COSENTINI
Sent: Monday, February 11, 2013 5:40 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] The Walt Whitman - Edison Controversy

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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