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Excerpt from

The Dangers of Genius

The Chaotic Brilliance of Silas Marlowe, Inventor, Philosopher, Skulker

By Derek Twite, Ffynche-Cult Publishing, £45.99

Chapter 2: The Sound Of Goats

The MarlowePhone label and the origins of sound recording

As a young lad, Silas Marlowe learned of his great-grandfather Malachi’s pioneering efforts to bring magic to the world through the capture of lost sonic experience.

In these days of WhoTube and the WhyPhone, it is difficult to imagine the longing of parents in the past to listen again to a child’s pantomime oration, or first violin lesson.

But the origins of the family’s famous MarlowePhone label came more by luck than design. Malachi was just a miller’s lad with a sideline in trout poaching in the summer of 1854, barely able to spell his name.

As dusk fell, he tucked his rod and tackle under his smock, and set off towards the millpool downstream from the village.

 

Cautious as he approached the borderlands to the Cult of Bard, he was unaware of a plot to foil his night’s enterprise.

Amos Tittefolde, landowner, alarmed by dwindling fish stocks on the river, had borrowed all of Bardfield’s goats into a single paddock to patrol the water’s edge. 

Malachi cast his line out only one time before he was attacked from behind, and headbutted into the soft mud.

 

One of the animals got tangled up, ripping yards of line from the reel. As it floundered around in the ooze, it bleated to its fellows, who cried back in sympathy. 

His cover blown, Malachi grabbed up the bundle of line, and headed home at a scamper.

Amos, pictured in the 1870s, mellowed in mid-life. He opened the pond to poachers and developed a great fondness for rare breeds

After work the next day, he took out his rod again, and slowly reeled the filth-baked line onto the spool. In shock, reliving the terrors of the previous night, he heard the faint sound of goats -- bleating, backwards. Not 'Baaa' but 'aaaB'. An ungodly and ethereal moaning.

Were he not already familiar with the yawing and groaning of mill machinery, he might have simply fled the ghostly sound. But his curiosity revealed that the hollow cane rod was vibrating as the line passed the tiptop wire eyelet offering a high pitched modulation, while against his stomach, the rod’s butt cap gave a lower frequency.

No sounds were emitted on those patches of line that remained clean, and he soon discovered that by pulling the muddy parts back out again, he could reverse the sound to produce a recognisable 'Baaa'.

Keen not to destroy these traces of aural history, he set about replicating the new technology.

 

A mix of flour and water substituted for mud, and was applied wet to a cotton thread. This he wound slowly onto his mother’s spinning wheel, set several yards away, using a rope tied to his foot.

 

The recording thread passed through the eyelet on the rod, which he held close to his mouth.

Then he uttered the first deliberately recorded sounds in human history. First there is a crash, as he fell off his stool and kicked out a leg, and then the words well-known to modern audio-technicians are spoken: 'Ouch. My bloody arse still hurts. Bloody goats.'

Malachi’s discovery turned quickly from pub novelty, to cottage industry, and then to the international company of the early 1900s.

Malachi’s mother always preferred her 'Goats' backwards

Copies were produced by acoustic amplification of originals using umbrellas. The wet-coated cotton lines were pulled through hooks at the end of each rib, while the original thread was drawn from a spool on the top rosette, and a vibrating eyelet in the crown cover.

So that the playing speed of copies remained the same as the original, all threads were attached to the same lead weight, whose fall was regulated by the type of governor balls already in use on steam engines.

The first plastic copies of 'The Sound of Goats' were extruded in 1949

By the time Silas took over production in the mid-20th century, he introduced plastic materials forced through vibrating nozzle-heads to create the classic Extrudo-Sound epoch.

Production continues to this day, and the company has insisted that customers require no additional changes to their home hi-fi.

 

Spools can be played on spinning wheels for family listening, or fishing rods and umbrellas for personal use under the Skulkman brand.

Users of the equipment are supplied with a 'classic spools' compilation of their choice. The original 'Sound of Goats' remains a hit, beaten only by 'Sailing By'.

'Multi-track mastering in Extrudo-Sound is more of an artform than a chore,' says MarlowePhone’s chief engineer Bella Cantworp

The cover of the 1963 Extrudo-Sound introductory boxset

The original Marlowe technique gave birth to everything that followed. Wax cylinders and shellac 78s merely inverted the vibratory effect into negative form. The use of spooled media led to wire and tape recorders, with the simple addition of magnetism.

MarlowePhone never embraced the digital age, and a desire for authenticity has seen a recent rise in Extrudo-Sound sales.

Silas himself was actively involved in all forms of high-fidelity recording, and is praised by inventors in the electric age for his generous advice. But his interest shifted from making machines to their employment for novel purposes.

His Extrudo recording systems were miniaturised for secret eavesdropping purposes, and configured into huge acoustic listening dishes to pick up sounds several miles away.  Many recordings still survive.

 

Following his accident with the orgone accumulator, he insisted he was able to make recordings from the past by tuning into the 'eternal resonance of the ether'. The origins of his recordings from this later period are disputed.

The Skulkman Umbrella for personal listening became popular in America in the 1950s

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