Schuh Column: Will other worldly inhabitants comprehend our music?
by Jim Schuh
I’ve sometimes wondered if it makes any sense to include recordings like 33 or 45 r.p.m. records, compact discs or flash drives on space vehicles fired toward distant places in the universe. When a spaceship arrives in a far-off place, will there be intelligent life there to try to figure out what the objects are and whether and how to play these media? My answer was usually negative.
But maybe I’ve been too hasty. I read recently that scientists at the Smithsonian in Washington have developed a way to hear Thomas Edison’s voice from a disk he made in 1885.
The Smithsonian determined that even if they had a player to listen to the original disks and cylinders, doing so might damage them. About 15-years ago, researchers developed a digital way to listen to the grooves on old media like tinfoil disks and wax cylinders without causing damage. They named it “IRENE,” an acronym for “Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.” Software then analyzed the data and turned it into sound.
A history professor at the University of South Carolina wrote an article explaining what the scientists heard. Allison Marsh wrote: “A cracked wax-on-fiberboard disc revealed the only known recording of Alexander Graham Bell himself. After several minutes of counting, Bell gives his name, the date (15 April 1885), and location (Volta Laboratory, 1221 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C.) before concluding, “In witness whereof—hear my voice.”
It’s not hi-fi or stereo, but it’s given us the ability to listen to Bell’s actual voice. If we humans can do that, maybe intelligent life somewhere far away will able to figure out how to play a record or CD if they can determine what they are. The Edison media are now tucked away safely at the American Museum of Natural History.
Now my question is, will inhabitants of another world be able to comprehend rock ‘n’ roll or rap music? If they do figure it out, what will they think of us? I take solace in the fact that by the time they do, I’ll be long gone.
I read with interest that Ray Szmanda died May 6 at the age of 91. Most knew him as the “Menard’s Guy,” for appearing in and voicing TV commercials for the company.
No doubt, he was proud of his son, Chuck, who worked for me at WSPT in the old days. Like his dad, Chuck had a very good radio voice. I met Ray when he stopped by the station one day to see if we might be interested in hiring his son.
A search on Google reveals that Chuck went onto better things after obtaining his Ph. D. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. He’s a principal partner at the patent practice of Szmanda and Shelnut in Westborough, Massachusetts. The website, Irresistible Materials, says this of Chuck: He “spent many years in research and development, most recently as a Research Fellow at the Dow Electronic Materials Company, where he worked on electronic applications of nanotechnology and did research on photoresist materials.”
He also “designed processes for making silicon devices at Bell Labs, did polymer research for micro and nanolithography, helped found a startup company called Aspect Systems, did fundamental research on electron transfer during molecular collisions, and practiced the art of x-ray crystallography and structural chemistry. He holds 31 U.S. patents and is the author of over 60 scientific publications.”
Those are some weighty accomplishments.
Perhaps you remember Jim Bakker, the televangelist who turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He hosted “The PTL Club.” After a sex scandal involving an assistant, he was found guilty of multiple counts of wire and mail fraud and conspiracy and went to federal prison for five years. His wife, Tammy Faye, divorced him while he was behind bars, and later died.
He hasn’t gone away and apparently has no shame. The 78-year old now runs the Morningside Church and does a program with his current wife that’s recorded near Branson, Missouri.
He wants people to buy his cabins in the Ozarks, which he says is the best place to be when the apocalypse arrives. He says they’ll be safer than in America’s big cities.
My reading is that he’s as foolish as ever, when trying to get people ready for the apocalypse and probably doesn’t understand the Book of Revelations. A quick check of the definition of apocalypse shows it means “the complete final destruction of the world.” If that’s so, why would anyone think they could escape by buying and hiding in a cabin in Arkansas?
A story in the Kansas City Star also says Bakker’s raising money by selling large water bottles for $150.
Update and correction: In a column awhile back, I mentioned that as a young teen, I worked in a drug store for the first woman pharmacist in Wisconsin. That was what she said, anyway. Well, an old friend – Arlene Roth – called me to take exception to that claim – she told me that in researching her genealogy, she found a relative – Lizzie Cadman – who practiced pharmacology in Portage County in the 1800s. My old boss was Ruth Erck, who likely was born a half-century after Lizzie. So thanks to sharp-eyed Arlene for setting the record straight.