In Brief

Bloom's sad thoughts in Hades about loved ones being quickly forgotten lead him to imagine how new technologies might ameliorate these losses: "Besides how could you remember everybody? Eyes, walk, voice. Well, the voice, yes: gramophone. Have a gramophone in every grave or keep it in the house. After dinner on a Sunday. Put on poor old greatgrandfather. Kraahraark! Hellohellohello amawfullyglad kraark awfullygladaseeagain hellohello amawf krpthsth. Remind you of the voice like the photograph reminds you of the face." The gramophone was an early type of phonograph, sonically much cruder than the electric "record players" and "turntables" that came along later, but not essentially different. Its ability to record the sound of human voices held great appeal.

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The terms "phonograph," "graphophone," and "gramophone," used for various kinds of sound recording devices, were all current in the late 19th century, sharing cultural space with other coinages like "photograph," "telegraph," and "telephone." Some of these devices recorded sounds by etching grooves into cylinders, but the technology that ultimately prevailed etched grooves into flat discs that could be played on a wind-up machine. One of these machines appears in Circe, displaying its large built-in horn: "From a bulge of window curtains a gramophone rears a battered brazen trunk." Later in the chapter the machine plays The Holy City, garbling the words "Jerusalem! / Open your gates and sing / Hosanna...": "Whorusalaminyourhighhohhhh... (The disc rasps gratingly against the needle.)"

The name was at first a proprietary trademark of the U.K. Gramophone Company, founded in 1898, but in 1910 an English court ruled that it had become generic, like "kleenex" or "sheetrock" in the U.S. today. The term lasted for a long time in the U.K. and other Commonwealth countries. In the U.S., the Victor Talking Machine Company sold very similar machines beginning in 1901. Both companies got advertising mileage from an 1898 painting by Francis Barraud called His Master's Voice which called attention to the machine's ability to capture the sounds of human voices.

Like the mutoscope and the cinematic movie reel, the gramophone was a quite recent arrival in 1904, but it followed several decades of experimentation, much as the daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes of the 1840s, 50s, and 60s led to modern photography. From the beginning inventors focused on recording the human voice. In 1857 a French printer named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patented a device called the "phonautograph" that recorded sound waves on soot-blackened paper. Scott first recorded the sound of a tuning fork, but in 1860 he succeeded in recording a human voice, probably his own, singing Au Clair de la Lune. His recordings were never meant to be played back, but in 2008 a lab in California succeeded in digitally reproducing their sounds.

In 1877 Thomas Edison developed a "phonograph" that could play back sounds from grooves cut in a sheet of foil wrapped around a cylinder, and at the end of that year he walked into the offices of Scientific American, set down a small machine, and turned a crank which caused the machine to say, "Good morning. How do you do? How do you like the phonograph?" Edison also recorded himself reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb. His foil recordings could not be played more than a few times without ripping, however, and in 1887 something much better came along: German-born American inventor Emil Berliner patented a new machine that played flat disks with spiral tracks moving inward from the outside edge. In the years that followed, Berliner founded Gramophone Companies in America, England, Canada, Germany (Deutsche Grammophon), and other European nations. As he found better materials for discs, his technology became durable, mass-producible, and commercially scalable.

In an article published in Electrical World on 12 November 1887, Berliner opined that "the gramophone is destined to fulfill many of the expectations which were placed 10 years ago on the phonograph, and which are partially realized by the graphophone." Within a few years, he predicted, “we may have our choice of phonautograms recorded by popular orators, writers, singers, actors, etc.," because "even at this early stage in the art of gramophony a recognition of the voice is unmistakable and the only practical problems now are to produce an even and regular motion and to find the most suitable material in which to mold the reproducing plate." His prediction proved accurate: the 1890s saw release of many recordings not only of music but of famous people speaking: the stage actor Edwin Booth, the poet Walt Whitman, the circus performer Buffalo Bill Cody, and others. Consumers wanted to learn, or be reminded, how the people they adored actually sounded.

Anyone who has lost a loved one with a memorable voice can testify to the inexorable process by which, over the course of weeks, months, and years, that voice fades and becomes replaced by pale counterfeit imitations. With his fantasy of "poor old greatgrandfather" being trotted out at Sunday dinners to kraark his greetings out of a tin horn, Bloom mocks the sonic inadequacy of early gramophones, but he also shows a poignant appreciation of grief and an understanding of how much human beings need to hang on to fragments of the people they have lost. Recording your loved one while still alive could "Remind you of the voice like the photograph reminds you of the face." This cherishing need is evident in the value that Joyceans have found in two studio recordings that their author made during his lifetime: one of the John F. Taylor speech in Aeolus, and another of the Anna Livia section in Finnegans Wake

JH 2021
An American "talking machine" of the early 1900s, with the familiar "His Master's Voice" logo on the front of the cabinet. Source: