Among my grandfather's records are a number of strange metal discs. After a few months of investigation I recovered a sample on the 19th June 2016. The MP3 below has been produced from it. The first sound I heard was the voice of my grandfather. He introduced himself from his room on the 22nd November 1932. I felt vertigo in the face of the chronological gulf separating us. My 32 year old grandfather was now speaking to the son of the daughter of the woman he would marry the following year.
Broadcasting is about transmission through space but recording is about transmission through time. My grandfather considered this. He first introduces himself and the date. He makes no assumption as to who he might be talking to or when. His subject is instructive (one way) and he speaks in plain English without jargon. Did he intend to transmit "himself" as much as the instruction? If not then why not just write the instruction down? The title "How to Record" may have referred to more than just the use of his microphone. Perhaps the further meaning (how to record oneself) was his final joke.
Our "selfie" acts of recording are now commonplace if not a cliche. We send aspects of ourselves into the future so that we can re-encounter our younger selves repeatedly. Yet we can only control these encounters for as long as we live. Even then control is not certain. The experiences of celebrity and social media demonstrate this. After death all control is lost. Our recorded aspects then become chrononauts on an uncertain voyage whether we like this or not.
So if we cannot avoid these voyages then is it possible to prepare for them? This question may not concern anyone for whom death is final. But it may concern those who have belief in a spiritual afterlife and desire to "watch over" their family. Perhaps Buddhist teachings could help them. In Buddhism enlightenment is achieved by meditation, a technique which enables dissociation of mind and body. Could an enlightened chrononaut dissociate his mind from the present to envisage a voyage into the future after his death? Such technique might help him anticipate his future cross-temporal encounters with friends or family. It might help him choose a suitable vessel i.e. medium on which to record. The Buddhist monks of Tibet maintain audio records over centuries by oral tradition and by using simple musical tones and percussions. This is without the apparent benefit of recording media which would otherwise be the vessels for their voyages. Do they have techniques to help?
Perhaps so but mental training is unlikely to be enough. Buddhist culture is stagnant and technologically simple. Without dependency on media there can be no physical deterioration in time and obsolescence is avoided. By contrast Western science has produced rapid technological change with complex reliance on media. A record has become a magnetic reel, a cassette tape, a compact disc and now a host of uncompressed and compressed digital file formats ranging from WMV to MP3. Western science and monetarism has produced astonishing advances in instant fidelity but at the cost of future obsolescence. How can we possibly anticipate the advances in technology that may soon render our chosen media "unplayable"? This question will become critical if our technology ever allows us to record human consciousness (or an aspect of it). This would leave the question of a spiritual afterlife somewhat less significant.
Returning to the present, whatever our beliefs or thoughts, perhaps the sensible approach is to apply basic principles and precautions whenever we record ourselves with posterity in mind. In 2016 I encountered my 32 year old grandfather voyaging from 1932 and the experience was enlightening, inspiring these thoughts. Whatever my beliefs it "feels right" to transmit him onward with due care and consideration, if not for him then for those he may encounter. This site plays some part in that.
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England