May 13, 2011

American Jukebox

I've recently discovered that the Library of Congress has set loose a National Jukebox upon the interwebosphere.  It is full of historical recordings, mostly 78 rpm discs from the Victor Talking Machine Co. converted to the digital.  These are all now streaming online and freely available.  Huzzah!

Perhaps I am more enthused than most, I love the hiss and clicks of these turntable recordings.  It makes them feel more real somehow even though the sound quality is worse.  I can hear them singing out from past, not polished and smooth but unedited and gritty.  Listening is like stepping back in time for a moment.

"Pictured here is an acoustic recording session conducted in the era before microphones were utilized for recording. Music and speech was funneled through recording horns, which in turn vibrated an attached diaphragm and stylus, thus etching the sound waves onto a rotating wax disc.  At launch, the Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Jukebox content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other Sony-owned U.S. labels, including Columbia, OKeh, and others." - About the National Jukebox

I've only just begun to scratch the surface.  There are spoken word recordings such as speeches from President Taft, and many, many songs recorded during the first 20 years of the twentieth century. 

I mention all this on my gameblog because I imagine these recordings might be useful for any GM whose game is set during that time period (Call of Cthulhu anyone?).  Also, the instrumentals might be a source of inspiration for any setting.

My favorite find so far is "La muerte del bardo".  I doubt it would take much effort to work a song named "Death of the Bard" into an adventure.  I don't usually like to play music during the game itself.  However, I do like to have a premade tape or burned CD at the ready.  Then (when the need arises) I can tell the players that a minstrel in the tavern, or bard traveling with the party begins to sing a song(s).  I hit the play button and get up to use the restroom or get a snack.  It's a musical intermission for those who need it, and an auto-pilot DM for those who want to stay at the table and have some in character discussions.

P.S. Oh! My mention of Cthulhu reminded me of other songs.  Anyone who respects the mythos might enjoy "Do you hear the pipes, Cthulhu?" which is set to the tune of ABBA's "Fernando".  Double OH!  There are also the the songs from the parody musical "Shoggoth on the Roof".  You can find many of those excellent songs on YouTube if you're interested, but I've never found a decent recording of the play itself.  Supposedly the play is cursed, unable to be produced.  There are some things that man was not meant to adapt to musical theatre.

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