National Public Radio Launches Lost & Found Sound

In January, National Public Radio launched an ambitious series chronicling the history of the 20th century in sound. Lost & Found Sound began with the first half of a two-part piece on the father of audio technology, entitled "The Rise and Fall of Thomas Alva Edison." Part two, which examines Edison's competition, will be broadcast this week.

The series can be heard on all NPR stations, and over the Internet via RealNetworks' RealPlayer G2. Version 5.0 of the popular audio software is now available for Mac and Unix users.

One intriguing part of the project, designed by Randy Thom and produced by Davia Nelson, Nikki Silva, and Jay Alison, is "Quest for Sound," which NPR's website describes as "a call to listeners to send in their home recordings of the last 100 years to be shaped into stories that capture the rituals and sounds of everyday life. We're asking you for your favorite sonic artifacts. We want to hear what we all decided was worth saving about ourselves, the ordinary and fabulous, the joyous and miserable, the ancient and the modern.

"We want recorded letters sent home from the war, debate-club practice tapes, pen-pal audio files from the Internet, personal recordings of historical events, your unique collection of doorbell sounds . . . We want your sounds and the stories that go with them . . . the childhood voices of famous men, the recorded letters of lovers, mysterious dialogues on forgotten cassettes found by the side of the road. What else is out there? You tell us."

Sound quality is not of prime importance, the producers say. What they are seeking is the authenticity and emotional impact of amateur recordings, from old cylinders to DATs. A huge source of material for the project is Tony Schwarz, who has made more than 30,000 recordings of his New York neighborhood, from 1945 to the present.

"Sound transports us," explains NPR's website. "It conjures the moment. Unlike photographs, recorded sounds and voices live in the air, in memory, beyond dimension, a short circuit to the instant they were captured."

Lost & Found Sound is an excellent excuse to fire up your old tape deck and plow through those boxes of musty old tapes. Who knows what treasures lie hidden in your attic? Potential donors are asked to call and discuss their recordings before sending them in. NPR's National Quest for Sound Hotline is (202) 408-0300.