Sound How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson


Sound

Documentary series. A look at the unsung heroes who allowed us to transport our voices over long distances - one of the greatest transformations in how we live our lives.


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Transcript


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RADIO: 'Today's forecast is cloudy but mild...'

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Imagine a world without the ability to capture or transmit sound.

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Every word we spoke would be lost forever. There'd be no phones,

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no radios, no rock concerts for mass audiences.

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So, how did we conquer sound?

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It was an unknown printer who created the first ever

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recording of the human voice, though no-one heard it for 150 years.

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It sounds kind of like a horror movie soundtrack, I have to say.

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And a beautiful movie star who helped give us

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privacy on our mobile phones.

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She'd rather spend the night at home reading

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Scientific American than going out to some glamorous party.

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These are classic examples of the kind of people who actually

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made the modern world.

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And their stories are probably ones you've never heard.

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They're hobbyists and garage inventors,

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maverick characters doing extraordinary things.

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What I love is that these pioneers didn't just give us mastery over

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sound, but they also set in motion an amazing chain reaction of ideas.

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Resulting in innovations that would go on to affect every

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aspect of our lives.

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From the world of work.

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TELEPHONE OPERATOR

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To race relations.

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TRUMPET PLAYS

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Saving lives.

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HEARTBEAT

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And changing our cities.

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I want to show how the link between all these apparently

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unconnected worlds starts with the unsung heroes of sound.

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All my career, I've been fascinated by ideas and innovation,

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from writing books about the great British innovators

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of the Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution, to my work

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with Silicon Valley start-ups. And what I've learned about innovation

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is that the experiences of the past are still the best road map for our

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future, and that's why I want to tell you story of how we got to now.

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It's almost a sacred experience.

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The desire to capture and share another human voice.

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MUSIC: Habanera from Carmen by Bizet

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But the art and science of manipulating sound is

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actually an old story, one that takes us back to pre-historic times.

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Here, at the Arcy-sur-Cure caves in France,

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are traces of human activity over 30,000 years old.

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This is one of the most magical spaces I've ever been in.

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I'm standing just inches away from one of the very first

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traces of our desire to record our experiences.

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Researchers now believe that these caves were not just

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used by our ancestors to express themselves with their hands,

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but also with their voices.

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O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o.

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O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o.

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These incredible sounds are coming from Professor Iegor Reznikoff,

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a specialist in the sonic acoustics of ancient spaces.

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HE HUMS

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He believes it's no coincidence that

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the wall paintings are located in specific areas.

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It's a space for the eyes but it's a space also for ears.

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The more you have echoes, the more you have paintings.

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So the most acoustically interesting parts of the cave turn out to

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-be populated by the most images.

-Yes.

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So they would sit in this space, look at these images,

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make these amazing reverberant sounds.

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-It was like the IMAX theatre of the Palaeolithic era.

-Yes.

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Can I try the chanting for a second?

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Let me give it a shot, OK?

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You be my instructor, I've never done this before.

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O-o-o-o-o-o.

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-That sounded pretty good.

-Yes.

-I feel very manly when I do that.

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Try to push it out.

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-O-o-o-o-o-o.

-O-o-o-o-o-o.

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Of course, Palaeolithic tribes couldn't record their own voices

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the way they could capture their visual experiences in painting.

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But by chanting and making animal sounds here, they were

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experimenting with a very early form of sound engineering using

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the natural acoustics of the cave to enhance and amplify the human voice.

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But over the next 30,000 years, not much happened.

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Sure, cave painting became Impressionism.

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But even by the late 1800s, our best attempts to share

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and amplify the sound of our voices basically amounted to...

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-HE SHOUTS:

-..shouting in big echo-y rooms!

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But in the late 19th century, that was about to change.

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Because an idea emerged that would transform everything,

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from how we respond to emergencies to how we build our cities.

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Thanks, in large part, to a failed invention from a forgotten

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Frenchman.

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In the middle of the 19th century, there's a new technology that

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has everyone excited.

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Photography.

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It's a medium that allows us

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to go beyond the painted impression of the world

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and for the first time to capture a mirror image of our lives.

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One instant convert to photography was a young,

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would-be inventor called Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville.

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Scott saw how photography was able to freeze time,

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to immortalize what we could see, and this got him thinking.

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Scott is a printer by trade, so it's his job to reproduce

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and share the written word.

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He starts to wonder, what if there were a device that could

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capture the spoken word?

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A kind of camera for the ear and not the eye.

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Scott writes, "Will one be able to preserve for future generations some

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"features of the diction of those eminent actors, those grand artists

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"who die without leaving behind them the faintest trace of their genius?"

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To make this high-minded dream a reality, Scott has a brilliant idea.

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Just as the camera creates images by mimicking the function

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of the eye, Scott plans to build a device that mimics the human ear.

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Recording the vibrations caused when sound waves reach our eardrum.

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Today, the results are held in the Academy of Sciences, in Paris.

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OK, so here's Scott's actual hand drawn design for a contraption

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he calls the phonautograph.

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It's basically a device for visualising sound.

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You vocalize into a funnel with a thin membrane at the narrow end.

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Sound vibrations trigger a needle that makes lines on paper

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blackened with soot, wrapped around a spinning drum.

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And this is the result.

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Scott called it a phonautogram.

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It's impossible for me to overstate the importance of this document,

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because these squiggly lines represent the very first

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audio recording.

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For the 100,000 years since language developed, every word ever

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spoken by anyone was immediately lost to the air.

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But finally, thanks to Edouard-Leon Scott,

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we had a way to immortalize the human voice.

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It was an epic achievement.

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So why has nobody heard of this guy?

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Because, unbelievably,

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Scott's design was missing one crucial feature -

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playback.

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Isn't that crazy?

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I mean, it's a little bit like inventing the car

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but forgetting to add the feature where the wheels turn.

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'In 2008, audio historian David Giovannoni discovered

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'a series of Scott's phonautograms in the Paris archives where

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'they'd languished in obscurity for years.'

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Why do you think that key final feature was missing from his plan?

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Well, a couple of things here.

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The phonautograph was ahead of its time.

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I mean, way ahead of its time.

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Scott's singular contribution to the science of acoustics was to

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take sounds out of the air, write them on a piece of paper

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automatically - the phonautograph. And he thought, "Well, now that

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"I have a visual representation of the sound, if I could just learn to

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"read these squiggles and interpret them and know what was said."

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Did he try? Did he spend a lot of time trying to?

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He did, and others did.

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But he quickly found out that it was really hard to do.

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Giovannoni and his colleagues created history by using new

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software to translate the squiggles into audible sound.

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For the first time ever,

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Scott's recordings could be played back to the world.

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Edouard-Leon Scott himself, the inventor, sitting in his room

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in Paris, April 9th 1860, and he's turning the crank, he's singing

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slowly, carefully, he's probably watching these squiggles being made.

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These are humanity's first recordings of its own voice.

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OK, so you've completely whetted my appetite here.

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I want to hear the actual recording. Can we do that?

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-Cool, let's hear it.

-OK.

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CRACKLY RECORDING

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It sounds kind of like a horror movie soundtrack,

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I have to say. I mean, appropriately, it sounds ghostly

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and here we are, we're bringing this voice back from the dead.

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He didn't send his voice a great distance,

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but he was the first human being to send his voice into the future.

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-Right.

-Over time, not just distance, and that's the ghostly part.

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Because once you've fixed the voice, it does become a ghost

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and ghostly after the maker has gone.

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Tragically, Edouard-Leon Scott could never convince

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anyone of the importance of the phonautograph.

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He even wrote a book advocating its merits, but no-one listened.

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He lived out his years as a librarian and bookseller

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and died receiving no acclaim for his remarkable invention.

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As a commercial proposition, the phonautograph is a complete failure.

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But Scott's device will ultimately

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succeed as a kind of inspiration that spreads around the globe.

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Because now, his invention is about to trigger changes in society

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that go far beyond recorded sound.

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The phonautograph has a ground-breaking legacy.

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It was the vital trigger for not one,

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but two inventions which transformed our lives.

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In 1887, across the Atlantic, American Thomas Edison patents

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the phonograph - a machine that allowed us to finally defy time.

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Now we could not only capture the human voice,

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but we could also play it back whenever we liked.

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But the second invention is even bigger

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and will completely revolutionise the way we communicate.

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A man experimenting with Scott's phonautograph

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discovers that the process of recording sound can be reversed

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and that sound vibrations can be turned back

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into their original state.

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And so the human voice could be sent along a telegraph wire.

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Alexander Graham Bell had just invented the telephone.

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It catches on like wildfire.

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By 1904, there are over 6,000 independent phone companies

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in America and eight million kilometres of telephone wire

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connecting us all.

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TELEPHONES RINGING

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It's hard to imagine it now, but just over a century ago,

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the idea of our voice extending beyond the range of natural

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earshot would have been almost unthinkable. I mean, think about it.

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I'm here in London and just by dialling a few numbers

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I can hear the voices of my family, an ocean away.

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It's one of those miracles of everyday life that we're too

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quick to take for granted.

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But the telephone would do far more than just transform how we

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talk to each other.

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Within a few years of its invention, telephone switchboards create

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a revolution in job opportunities for women.

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The telephone collapses distances, emergency services can now

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respond much faster to alarms raised by phone calls.

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And as customers can now communicate easily with businesses many

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kilometres away, the need for a shop front in every town becomes

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less important.

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Businesses begin to consolidate

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and cluster in the booming cities, building upwards.

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Now, you might think that the elevator was the key

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technology in building skyscrapers, but you could make the argument that

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the telephone was just as crucial in creating the modern city skyline.

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The phone bridged great distances between us.

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The next big challenge for sound was how to send the human voice

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out to millions of people - all at the same time.

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It would transform everything,

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from popular culture to organised protest.

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RADIO: 'Forecast is for sunny mild conditions.

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'Afternoon temperatures 60s to low 70s.'

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'KCBS News time, 9.28 first for traffic...'

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This is KCBS, America's oldest broadcasting radio station,

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based in San Francisco.

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It's been hitting the airwaves for a century.

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We're like a cat, we're in about our seventh life now, we've been

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pronounced dead so many times we've forgotten how many times.

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'I'm speaking to news anchor Stan Bunger, on air!'

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So this is actually an historic radio station,

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there's an important history to what happened here.

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It happened really fast,

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I mean, very shortly after they started these transmissions

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in San Jose, they realised that lots of people were hearing it.

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Within a seven-year period, 60% of the families in the United States

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bought a radio set.

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What do you think the cultural effects of that was of radio?

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How did it change the country?

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Well, think of it as the very first time in American history,

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and really in world history, that that many people

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could simultaneously experience something,

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you know, a radio programme.

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What's the effect of radio today?

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We have all these different technologies now,

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but radio continues to be a vital part of our culture.

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The reality is more people in the United States still use

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the radio every week than use the internet.

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This gigantic cultural force of mass news and entertainment would

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owe a great debt to one of the most error-prone inventors in history.

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In 1900, Lee de Forest, a young, would-be inventor,

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is broke and desperate to make his mark on the world.

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He writes to his mother,

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"The only footprints I will leave will be my inventions."

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De Forest dreams of transmitting

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and receiving the human voice, not with wires like the phone,

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but invisibly, using electromagnetic radio waves.

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The idea of radio communication has been around for a while,

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but only very weak signals could be sent.

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The lack of amplification was a massive problem.

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In 1903, de Forest thinks that the solution to delivering

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a powerful radio signal to millions of people can be

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found by experimenting with gas and electricity.

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After three years of frenzied activity,

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he comes up with this strange object.

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It's a gas-filled bulb with three electrodes designed to

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amplify radio signals.

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He calls it the Audion.

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The initial tests of the Audion are very encouraging.

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De Forest plans a grand public demonstration to

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showcase his marvellous new invention.

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On January 13th, 1910, at the New York Metropolitan Opera, de Forest

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hooks up a telephone microphone to a transmitter on the roof.

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To broadcast his beloved opera for the first time.

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MUSIC: Habanera from Carmen by Bizet

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Anticipating wonder from his audience,

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de Forest invited hordes of reporters and VIPs to listen

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to his radio receivers scattered all around the city.

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WOMAN SINGS AN ARIA

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De Forest imagines a wave of invisible notes

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flying above the city.

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He sees it as a triumphant moment in his career, calling himself

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the Father of Radio, and he tells the New York Times,

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"I look forward to the day when opera may be brought

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"into every home."

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But the thing is, no-one is impressed with the historic

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broadcast.

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Because, while de Forest has promised his listeners this...

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SHE SINGS AN ARIA

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What they actually heard was this...

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MUFFLED AND DISTORTED MUSIC

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The broadcast was a disaster, the press laughed at him

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and later de Forest was even arrested for fraud,

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accused of overselling the value of the Audion to his shareholders.

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The truth is, the Audion just wasn't that good.

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And it did amplify radio signals, but not nearly enough...

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..to launch a broadcasting revolution.

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In 1913, de Forest sells the Audion patent at a bargain price to

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pay legal bills.

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It's snapped up by the R&D Department at AT&T,

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who discover something startling.

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What they find is that de Forest had been flat out wrong about almost

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everything he was inventing.

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But lurking behind de Forest's

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accumulation of errors, there was a beautiful idea waiting to emerge.

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He was actually on to something with his three-electrode design,

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but de Forest's big error was believing that

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the gas inside the Audion could amplify a radio signal.

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Over the next decade, researchers experimented with his basic design.

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They took the gas out of the bulb,

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and suddenly it worked a whole lot better.

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That was the birth of the vacuum tube.

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And now, a device conceived as a way to amplify sound,

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by a man who didn't even understand how his creation worked, turns

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into one of the most transformative inventions in history.

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The vacuum tube could boost the electrical signal of any technology

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that needed it, triggering an electronics revolution.

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Radar, television, VCRs, sound recording, amplifiers, X-rays,

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and microwave ovens all become commercially viable,

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thanks to the vacuum tube.

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But its first success comes in making Lee de Forest's dream

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a reality,

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as the vacuum tube powers the transformation of radio

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into a mass medium for popular entertainment.

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The ability to broadcast inside people's homes captures

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the country's imagination.

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By 1936, three quarters of Americans consider owning a radio

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a necessity, even in times of hardship.

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Radio quickly becomes a vital source of news and information, but it

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also creates a national passion for a new kind of music.

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Jazz.

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THEY PLAY: When The Saints Go Marching In

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Originating in New Orleans, jazz had been around

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since the turn of the 20th century.

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And it was more than just music,

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it was an African-American cultural movement.

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Not that anyone in white America knew much about it,

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because society was still heavily segregated.

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And now, thanks to radio,

0:24:170:24:20

jazz can step out from the basement clubs and inner city ghettos

0:24:200:24:25

and reach America's white youth, who can't get enough.

0:24:250:24:29

As radio takes off, the intoxicating rhythms of jazz

0:24:340:24:38

become the most popular form of music on American radio.

0:24:380:24:41

MUSIC: Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday

0:24:470:24:49

The heady sound of jazz is unstoppable and the music becomes

0:24:530:24:57

a vehicle for African-Americans to share their experiences.

0:24:570:25:02

Songs such as Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday reflect

0:25:020:25:06

the terrifying realities of racism and segregation in America.

0:25:060:25:12

# Black bodies swinging In the southern breeze

0:25:120:25:19

# Strange fruit hanging From the poplar trees. #

0:25:210:25:26

Strange fruit was the first recording that really spoke

0:25:280:25:31

directly to the horrors of lynching and the abuses that

0:25:310:25:34

African-Americans were subject to at any time.

0:25:340:25:37

And so I think that kind of reality,

0:25:370:25:38

that stark reality for many white Americans who maybe had never seen

0:25:380:25:43

a lynching, maybe have heard faintly of it,

0:25:430:25:46

it forces them to look at America as it is.

0:25:460:25:48

Music historian

0:25:480:25:49

Ray Briggs has studied the impact of jazz on American culture.

0:25:490:25:53

That song particularly became like a mirror, I think, for a lot of people.

0:25:550:25:59

This song actually speaks to my humanity

0:25:590:26:01

and I see these people as being human.

0:26:010:26:03

Maybe I've been wrong, maybe my parents were wrong,

0:26:030:26:05

maybe they haven't understood it in a way that I understand it?

0:26:050:26:08

So I do think that the technology allowing jazz to

0:26:080:26:10

be kind of disseminated more widely definitely made it accessible

0:26:100:26:13

to a lot of people.

0:26:130:26:14

They may not have gone to a political rally.

0:26:140:26:17

But they'll listen to a song.

0:26:170:26:18

And so when those artists who understand that power begin

0:26:180:26:21

to utilize it, they speak to, I think,

0:26:210:26:23

the power of technology and the power of music, that those

0:26:230:26:26

two things coming together are just beyond understanding.

0:26:260:26:30

That's a fascinating point in the sense that technology is

0:26:300:26:32

one of the first steps of integration, you're

0:26:320:26:34

bringing these voices and this culture into a white household.

0:26:340:26:38

Most definitely.

0:26:380:26:39

The interesting thing about jazz, and any music for that matter,

0:26:390:26:42

that once it enters your space,

0:26:420:26:43

once it gets in your head, it becomes a part of you.

0:26:430:26:46

If you like it, then it becomes something that you value.

0:26:460:26:48

So then you think, "Well, this music then is made by these people,

0:26:480:26:52

"then maybe they have value."

0:26:520:26:53

Radio helped democratise America through entertainment.

0:26:560:27:01

Martin Luther King would later say that, "Much of the power of

0:27:010:27:05

"our freedom movement in the United States has come from this music."

0:27:050:27:09

What's also amazing about the vacuum tube is not only did it help

0:27:120:27:15

us share music, but it then revolutionized

0:27:150:27:19

the very sound of music itself.

0:27:190:27:21

What I really love about the vacuum tube is that it's such

0:27:250:27:27

a versatile device that even

0:27:270:27:29

when it malfunctioned, it still managed to change the world.

0:27:290:27:32

In 1960, a bassist discovered that a faulty amplifier could cause

0:27:360:27:41

distortion and create a whole new sound.

0:27:410:27:44

And so, thanks to the sonic properties of a broken vacuum

0:27:470:27:52

tube, discovered entirely by accident, by the mid 1960s,

0:27:520:27:56

the sound of popular music had gone from this...

0:27:560:27:59

CLEAR GUITAR MUSIC

0:27:590:28:01

..to this...

0:28:030:28:04

DISTORTED GUITAR MUSIC

0:28:040:28:06

Distortion defined the sound of The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix and

0:28:210:28:25

The Sex Pistols and Nirvana, and without broken vacuum tubes the last

0:28:250:28:31

half century of popular music would have sounded completely different.

0:28:310:28:34

Thanks to our growing mastery of sound,

0:28:400:28:43

life in the 20th century was getting a whole lot louder.

0:28:430:28:47

It was creating an offensive new phenomenon - noise pollution.

0:28:490:28:56

OK, so I'm here in New York City, it's still a very noisy place,

0:28:580:29:02

but imagine what it would have been like in the 1920s,

0:29:020:29:05

when amazingly enough, it was even louder than it is today.

0:29:050:29:09

So what are the sounds we would have heard?

0:29:090:29:11

We would have heard the sound of cars honking,

0:29:110:29:14

just the way we do today.

0:29:140:29:15

TAPE MACHINE PLAYS CAR SOUNDS

0:29:150:29:17

But on top of that we would have also heard

0:29:170:29:20

the sound of policemen directing traffic with their whistles,

0:29:200:29:23

and trams and horses, everywhere.

0:29:230:29:26

RECORDERS PLAY THE SOUNDS HE DESCRIBES

0:29:260:29:28

And you would have heard the elevated railway, which

0:29:280:29:30

was around us, making this huge noise constantly.

0:29:300:29:33

We would have heard the whistles from the steam boats in the river.

0:29:360:29:40

And of course this is the era of construction with the giant

0:29:420:29:46

skyscrapers and so there's people building these huge buildings.

0:29:460:29:52

And on top of that, the final straw for most New Yorkers,

0:29:520:29:57

the newfangled inventions of the gramophone and the loudspeaker

0:29:570:30:01

blaring from shop windows and people's apartments

0:30:010:30:04

throughout the day.

0:30:040:30:06

It would have been absolutely overwhelming.

0:30:060:30:09

A CACOPHONY OF SOUNDS

0:30:090:30:11

So, you can see why they called it the Roaring Twenties, right?

0:30:180:30:21

I mean, we'd created all these technologies to enhance

0:30:210:30:24

and broadcast the sounds we liked.

0:30:240:30:27

But we were starting to realise that we needed other technology to

0:30:270:30:30

measure, and even remove, unwanted sound.

0:30:300:30:34

And that's where this guy comes into the story, Harvey Fletcher.

0:30:340:30:39

Fletcher was a technical genius, a committed Mormon

0:30:410:30:44

and an all-round do-gooder who believed in using his skills

0:30:440:30:48

for the benefit of his fellow man.

0:30:480:30:51

He'd spent years developing ways of measuring sound intensity

0:30:510:30:55

and its effects on the human ear.

0:30:550:30:57

Now, Fletcher was part of a growing number of people who felt

0:30:580:31:02

that the noise of city life was just getting too overwhelming and that it

0:31:020:31:06

was causing high blood pressure and anxiety and decreased productivity.

0:31:060:31:11

And so, in 1929, he offers his services to the newly formed

0:31:120:31:18

Noise Abatement Commission.

0:31:180:31:20

This is an organisation that was

0:31:200:31:21

so serious about combating noise, that they actually held meetings to

0:31:210:31:24

measure and test the offensiveness of different kinds of car horns.

0:31:240:31:28

PARP

0:31:280:31:29

PIRP

0:31:290:31:30

PARP

0:31:300:31:31

PIRP

0:31:310:31:32

But Fletcher's grandest experiment was his decision to create

0:31:350:31:39

a kind of a roving noise laboratory.

0:31:390:31:42

A truck loaded with cameras

0:31:420:31:44

and state-of-the-art sound equipment that

0:31:440:31:46

drove around New York City's nosiest streets taking sound measurements.

0:31:460:31:50

The Noise Abatement Commission used Fletcher's newly invented

0:31:540:31:57

audiometer to measure the volume

0:31:570:32:00

and intensity of noise in New York City.

0:32:000:32:02

40, 41, 42. Parkinson, make it 42.

0:32:040:32:11

The noise in Times Square deprives us of 42% of our hearing.

0:32:110:32:16

Their pioneering work helped establish the decibel

0:32:180:32:21

as a unit of measurement.

0:32:210:32:22

I'm standing with sound historian

0:32:240:32:26

Emily Thompson on the corner of 34th Street and 6th Avenue,

0:32:260:32:30

once the noisiest place in the whole of New York City.

0:32:300:32:33

And this is one of the first times we've got

0:32:370:32:39

a unit of measure of some sort for just ambient noise.

0:32:390:32:43

We do. He considered this the first scientific investigation

0:32:430:32:46

of city noise. Now, the unit was a little fuzzy

0:32:460:32:49

actually, it wasn't standardised yet, it was very particular to

0:32:490:32:52

this machine. In fact, it was called the Noise Unit.

0:32:520:32:56

At what point do we start measuring in decibels?

0:32:580:33:01

The decibel is defined in 1929.

0:33:010:33:05

It kind of standardised the procedure,

0:33:050:33:07

standardised their equipment and came up with a unit that

0:33:070:33:11

represented the hugely varying energy difference

0:33:110:33:16

from the faintest barely perceptible sound, which is zero decibels, to the

0:33:160:33:21

point at which sound is really perceived more as pain than as sound.

0:33:210:33:26

And that's around 120, or 130 decibels.

0:33:260:33:29

We'll do a couple at this concert tonight.

0:33:290:33:32

So we're standing at 34th and 6th here,

0:33:320:33:34

what was the decibel reading have been like around 1930 for this spot?

0:33:340:33:37

According to the Noise Abatement Commission, the average value

0:33:370:33:41

here was approximately 74 decibels, and it got as high as 90.

0:33:410:33:48

90. OK. You know, it's funny.

0:33:480:33:50

I just happen to have here in my pocket a decibel reader.

0:33:500:33:53

-What a surprise.

-Yeah, it's weird. I just carry these around with me.

0:33:530:33:57

We're going to get a reading here, right now.

0:33:570:34:00

-That's interesting, it's, like, 64 or 65.

-OK.

0:34:030:34:06

So, you think about it, you say the average in 1930 was 74,

0:34:060:34:11

going up to 90, so it's actually quieter now than it was in 1930.

0:34:110:34:16

So it must have been incredibly loud here.

0:34:160:34:18

I think so.

0:34:180:34:19

Thanks to Fletcher and the Noise Abatement Commission,

0:34:240:34:27

new codes and regulations are passed in New York City.

0:34:270:34:30

Whistle blowing traffic police are replaced by traffic lights.

0:34:330:34:40

The city begins handing out fines for playing

0:34:400:34:42

loudspeakers too noisily.

0:34:420:34:44

TRUMPETS PLAY

0:34:440:34:46

The elevated railway is sent underground.

0:34:480:34:52

And all across America, highways are soon built with walls

0:34:550:34:59

designed to shield out noise from nearby homes.

0:34:590:35:02

Modern offices are designed to absorb sound, minimise noise

0:35:050:35:09

and protect workers' health.

0:35:090:35:11

As sound-proofing becomes a new industry across the Western world.

0:35:130:35:17

HUM OF CONVERSATION

0:35:170:35:19

KEYBOARDS TAPPING

0:35:190:35:21

PHONE RINGS

0:35:220:35:24

We've gotten better and better at reducing obtrusive noise,

0:35:270:35:31

but where do you go if you want to escape sound entirely?

0:35:310:35:35

Behind these two huge doors is an anechoic chamber,

0:35:370:35:42

one of the quietest places on the planet.

0:35:420:35:45

I'm going to go in here, shut these doors and, for the first time

0:35:450:35:48

in my life, experience total silence.

0:35:480:35:51

This chamber is an extreme example of sound proofing.

0:35:590:36:03

Anechoic chambers can reduce noise levels to minus 12 decibels.

0:36:050:36:09

Humans can't hear anything below zero decibels.

0:36:090:36:12

It is a really striking feeling. I mean, you know,

0:36:190:36:23

you feel almost like you've got a cold

0:36:230:36:25

and you're congested, just kind of losing parts of the hearing

0:36:250:36:30

spectrum that you normally take for granted.

0:36:300:36:33

Anechoic chambers are used to test hearing aids

0:36:350:36:38

and evaluate the sounds emitted from electrical appliances.

0:36:380:36:42

Chambers like these are also even used for astronaut training.

0:36:420:36:47

Hello!

0:36:470:36:49

Hello, can you hear me?

0:36:500:36:52

I'm testing the acoustic properties of this space!

0:36:540:36:57

O-o-o-o-o-o-o!

0:36:590:37:02

The sound of clapping is just completely dead.

0:37:040:37:08

After a while, the sound of complete silence becomes rather disturbing.

0:37:100:37:14

What it is, you're used to having sound waves

0:37:220:37:25

bombarding your ears all the time and when there's nothing

0:37:250:37:28

there it just feels like something is wrong.

0:37:280:37:31

Soon the only audible noises are the sound of your heart beat

0:37:320:37:36

and breathing.

0:37:360:37:38

HEARTBEAT

0:37:380:37:39

The sensory deprivation inside an anechoic chamber

0:37:420:37:45

is so disconcerting that if left too long inside,

0:37:450:37:48

you might start to hallucinate.

0:37:480:37:50

Anybody want to let me out?

0:37:560:37:59

Anyone?

0:37:590:38:00

Hello?

0:38:010:38:04

Hello?

0:38:040:38:05

BELL CHIMES

0:38:070:38:09

So it turns out that, far from banishing sound entirely,

0:38:120:38:16

we need some level of background noise to prevent us

0:38:160:38:19

from going completely crazy.

0:38:190:38:21

Of course, the sound you're most likely to hear on today's

0:38:250:38:28

city streets is someone talking too loudly into their cellphone.

0:38:280:38:33

I mean, if Edouard-Leon Scott could time travel to today,

0:38:330:38:37

he would be completely amazed. Not only can we record our voices,

0:38:370:38:41

but we can project them through space and have a private

0:38:410:38:44

conversation with someone on the other side of the planet.

0:38:440:38:48

So how did that come about?

0:38:480:38:50

In the early years of radio communication,

0:38:520:38:55

privacy simply didn't exist.

0:38:550:38:57

All frequencies were open,

0:38:590:39:00

so any transmission could easily be eavesdropped, recorded or jammed.

0:39:000:39:04

Up until World War II, opposing armies assumed someone was

0:39:070:39:11

always listening in.

0:39:110:39:13

But then, an innovation comes along that changes everything

0:39:150:39:19

and leads to one of the most important

0:39:190:39:20

technologies of the 21st century.

0:39:200:39:23

Only this innovation doesn't come from a corporate research lab

0:39:230:39:27

or some struggling entrepreneur in a garage somewhere.

0:39:270:39:30

It comes from a movie star.

0:39:300:39:33

Back in the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was one of Hollywood's biggest stars,

0:39:350:39:42

described by the press as "the most beautiful woman in the world".

0:39:420:39:47

She starred in films with Clark Gable.

0:39:470:39:49

You are the first American I've ever met with a soul.

0:39:510:39:55

And played Delilah in Cecil B De Mille's Samson And Delilah,

0:39:550:39:59

the biggest grossing movie of 1949.

0:39:590:40:03

But Samson was ensnared by the seductive beauty of Delilah.

0:40:030:40:07

Daughter of hell.

0:40:070:40:09

His lust became a trap which led to his downfall and capture.

0:40:090:40:13

She was a screen goddess who landed all the top roles.

0:40:130:40:17

But the thing is,

0:40:180:40:19

Hedy Lamar's life outside the movies is stranger than fiction.

0:40:190:40:23

Born in Vienna, Lamarr established herself in 1930s European cinema

0:40:260:40:31

and married a wealthy armament manufacturer called Fritz Mandl.

0:40:310:40:35

In 1937, she dumped Mandl and fled to America to find stardom.

0:40:360:40:42

Lamarr signs a contract that brings her here,

0:40:440:40:47

to what was then MGM Studios.

0:40:470:40:49

It's a movie factory and it turns her into an icon.

0:40:490:40:54

She's a rich and famous movie star.

0:40:540:40:57

But despite all the success, Lamarr isn't happy.

0:40:570:41:00

Because, you see, Hedy Lamarr has brains to match her beauty.

0:41:040:41:09

She finds Hollywood dull and shallow.

0:41:090:41:11

She'd rather spend the night at home reading Scientific American

0:41:110:41:15

than going out to some glamorous party.

0:41:150:41:17

Lamarr even becomes an inventor to kill downtime on the set.

0:41:170:41:21

She comes up with innovations like a dissolving tablet that

0:41:210:41:26

turns into cola when placed in water.

0:41:260:41:28

But it's war, not boredom, that will spur Lamarr to change the world.

0:41:340:41:38

As World War II rages, the US Navy are struggling to effectively

0:41:400:41:44

use torpedoes against the Japanese fleet.

0:41:440:41:46

Radio guiding systems can only use a single frequency, which has no

0:41:480:41:53

privacy so it's easy to find, jam, and send the torpedo off course.

0:41:530:41:58

Lamarr decides to help the US Navy strike back.

0:42:010:42:04

Now, it might seem like a big leap from a Hollywood studio backlot

0:42:070:42:11

to military hardware, but it turns out, from her

0:42:110:42:15

marriage to the arms magnate, Lamarr actually knows a lot about

0:42:150:42:19

cutting-edge weapons research.

0:42:190:42:21

And she's got a brilliant idea.

0:42:210:42:24

It's a remote-controlled torpedo, operated from a plane overhead,

0:42:240:42:29

with, and here's the brilliant part, a frequency-hopping signal.

0:42:290:42:33

Her vision is for both the plane

0:42:360:42:39

and torpedo to synchronise continuous frequency changes,

0:42:390:42:43

so the enemy can't intercept and jam the radio signal.

0:42:430:42:46

But turning Lamarr's crazy idea into reality won't be easy.

0:42:560:43:01

And that's where this guy comes in - George Antheil, an eccentric

0:43:010:43:06

polymath who no Hollywood screenwriter could dream up.

0:43:060:43:09

Antheil had been a US weapons inspector during World War I

0:43:100:43:14

before becoming a renowned avant-garde composer.

0:43:140:43:19

He was known as the bad boy of music.

0:43:190:43:22

And just looking at these two smouldering faces, it wasn't

0:43:220:43:25

surprising they were going to cook up something remarkable together.

0:43:250:43:29

And so the glamorous movie star and the experimental musician,

0:43:330:43:37

one of the most unlikely duos in the history of technology,

0:43:370:43:41

put their heads together.

0:43:410:43:42

And they come up with this...

0:43:420:43:45

THE PIANO PLAYS ITSELF

0:43:450:43:46

OK, OK, so it's not an awesome death ray or something like that.

0:43:510:43:55

It's a player piano, it's actually an old piece of technology.

0:43:550:43:58

But what made it so interesting is the fact that it plays itself.

0:43:580:44:02

You see, every player piano has this kind of scrolling punch card inside

0:44:090:44:16

of it where these holes correspond to one of the 88 keys on the piano.

0:44:160:44:22

And as the paper scrolls along, the piano hops from note to note,

0:44:220:44:25

based on the information encoded in the paper.

0:44:250:44:28

Antheil had already toyed with player units in his experimental

0:44:300:44:34

music, making multiple pianos play exactly in sync.

0:44:340:44:40

His crazy idea is to use the same technique for

0:44:400:44:43

Lamarr's remote control torpedo.

0:44:430:44:46

Just as his pianos hopped between a keyboard's 88 notes to play

0:44:510:44:56

a tune, the transmitter aeroplane and the receiver torpedo

0:44:560:45:01

are programmed to make split-second synchronised hops

0:45:010:45:04

between 88 different radio frequencies.

0:45:040:45:07

It was a truly revolutionary idea, the enemy couldn't possibly

0:45:120:45:16

intercept a transmitted message being

0:45:160:45:18

spread across the frequency spectrum, which meant that no-one

0:45:180:45:22

could stop a remote control torpedo from hitting its target.

0:45:220:45:26

It's the first ever means of secure radio communications.

0:45:260:45:30

It sounded too good to be true,

0:45:370:45:40

and unfortunately that's exactly what the US Navy thought.

0:45:400:45:43

Lamarr and Antheil succeeded in getting a patent for their

0:45:450:45:48

invention, but it's dismissed by the military and never pursued.

0:45:480:45:53

But despite the fact Lamarr's guided missile scheme would never

0:45:540:45:59

see the light of day, the core idea behind it was destined

0:45:590:46:03

to have a major impact on how we live today.

0:46:030:46:07

Prompted by the prospect of all-out nuclear war

0:46:090:46:12

during the Cuban Missile Crisis,

0:46:120:46:14

the military dusts off Lamarr's proposal and develops it, not for

0:46:140:46:18

remote-controlling a torpedo, but to secure communications between ships.

0:46:180:46:24

It works, and it signals the start of a technological revolution.

0:46:260:46:30

By the 1980s, the technology is declassified,

0:46:310:46:35

forming the backbone to a new era in secure, wireless communication.

0:46:350:46:40

Enabling cellphone users to share frequencies and talk in private.

0:46:410:46:47

So, today, any time you make a cellphone call or send a text,

0:46:500:46:55

or an e-mail via Wi-Fi, it's partly thanks to an ingenious

0:46:550:47:00

idea from a Hollywood actress that helped launch a digital revolution.

0:47:000:47:05

From our earliest experiments with recording

0:47:090:47:12

and broadcasting human voices, the journey of sound has been

0:47:120:47:16

all about extending the range of our voices and ears.

0:47:160:47:21

But the most surprising twist of all would come nearly

0:47:230:47:27

a century ago, when we first began to realise that

0:47:270:47:31

sound could be harnessed for something else - to help us see.

0:47:310:47:35

It's 1912 and the world reacts in horror to the news that

0:47:410:47:45

the RMS Titanic had struck an iceberg and sunk,

0:47:450:47:49

taking over 1,500 people with it to a watery grave.

0:47:490:47:53

It's one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.

0:47:570:48:01

Like millions of others,

0:48:040:48:05

the Canadian Reginald Fessenden is devastated by the loss of life.

0:48:050:48:11

But he's also an inventor, and obsessed with sound technology.

0:48:110:48:15

He resolves to try and prevent such a tragedy ever happening again,

0:48:160:48:21

using his knowledge of sound.

0:48:210:48:23

Fessenden already knows that sound travels very effectively

0:48:260:48:30

through water, so he's got this idea for a maritime technology

0:48:300:48:34

that could be used to detect icebergs.

0:48:340:48:37

And strangely enough, it's the exact same approach that evolution

0:48:370:48:42

came up with for a completely different species.

0:48:420:48:45

To understand how Fessenden's idea would work,

0:48:470:48:51

I've come to a dolphin aquarium in Northern California.

0:48:510:48:54

OK, I'm out here in the middle of the aquarium but you guys

0:48:540:48:59

aren't going to prank me and let the great white out are you?

0:48:590:49:01

-Cos that wouldn't be very...

-Not today.

-Not today, OK, good.

0:49:010:49:05

'Trainer Holley Muraco knows all about how dolphins use

0:49:050:49:08

'echolocation to navigate.'

0:49:080:49:11

Listen for a sound that's sort of like a zipper or a squeaky door.

0:49:110:49:16

-And that will be the sound...

-That will be the sound of echolocation.

0:49:160:49:18

-So they're sending out a sound wave through the water.

-Yes.

0:49:180:49:21

-And it's going to bounce off of me.

-Yes.

0:49:210:49:23

And then it's going to bounce back to their ear

0:49:230:49:25

and their brain will process that spatially.

0:49:250:49:27

-So they'll get a sense of weird guy in the pool over there.

-Exactly.

0:49:270:49:32

Release the dolphins!

0:49:320:49:33

OK, listen now.

0:49:400:49:42

DOLPHINS CLICK AND SQUEAK

0:49:440:49:46

There's some echolocation.

0:49:460:49:47

Yeah, I heard that sound.

0:49:470:49:49

-I can totally hear it.

-Cool, huh?

-Yeah, that was amazing.

0:49:540:49:57

There's nothing quite like it, it's hard to describe.

0:49:570:50:00

They have something we totally don't have.

0:50:000:50:02

Hello, a little wave?

0:50:050:50:07

Fessenden had no idea that dolphins can use sound echoes to

0:50:070:50:11

visualise both the size and distance of an object underwater.

0:50:110:50:15

This wouldn't be established until the 1950s.

0:50:150:50:18

Oh, he's hugging you now. You're getting a dolphin hug.

0:50:190:50:25

Humans have been interested in echoes

0:50:250:50:27

since they were chanting in caves tens of thousands of years ago.

0:50:270:50:30

But they'd never used echoes for complex navigation

0:50:320:50:35

and discovery the way dolphins naturally do.

0:50:350:50:39

But Reginald Fessenden is about to change all that.

0:50:390:50:42

Now, it might not look as aesthetically

0:50:440:50:47

pleasing as a dolphin, but this is what Fessenden cooks up.

0:50:470:50:51

It looks more like a giant metal detector.

0:50:520:50:55

An echo-ranging device he calls the Fessenden Oscillator

0:50:550:50:59

that can use sound to see objects in the water exactly as dolphins do.

0:50:590:51:04

The Oscillator was a brilliant idea. Well, actually, it was two

0:51:090:51:13

brilliant ideas.

0:51:130:51:15

It can generate a pulse which travels through water

0:51:150:51:18

and then returns if it encounters an object,

0:51:180:51:21

detecting icebergs up to 3km away.

0:51:210:51:25

But, it's also a receiver converting in-coming vibrations

0:51:280:51:32

into sound - making it an underwater telegraph for communication.

0:51:320:51:38

It's a huge breakthrough and Fessenden is convinced it

0:51:440:51:47

will save countless lives, not just through detecting icebergs,

0:51:470:51:51

but also, with the outbreak of World War I,

0:51:510:51:55

by detecting German U-boats in the new reality of submarine warfare.

0:51:550:52:00

Unseen submarines are launching devastating attacks

0:52:020:52:06

on merchant vessels, threatening to cut off Britain's food supplies.

0:52:060:52:11

Fessenden's convinced his idea can contribute to the war effort.

0:52:110:52:15

You see, Fessenden is a Canadian and a subject of the British Empire,

0:52:180:52:22

and he's convinced his technology can help the Royal Navy.

0:52:220:52:26

Unfortunately, the American company that funds

0:52:260:52:29

and therefore owns his research doesn't share the same

0:52:290:52:32

allegiance to the Union Jack.

0:52:320:52:35

What they see in Fessenden's invention is a risky proposition.

0:52:350:52:39

But faced with the financial risk of developing two revolutionary

0:52:420:52:46

new technologies, the company decides to build

0:52:460:52:49

and market the Oscillator as a listening device only.

0:52:490:52:53

Beside himself with rage, Fessenden travels on his own dime all

0:52:560:53:01

the way to Portsmouth, England, to meet directly with the Royal Navy.

0:53:010:53:05

But there too, the top brass are dubious of this miracle invention.

0:53:050:53:11

Fessenden later wrote,

0:53:110:53:12

"I pleaded with them to just let us open the box and show them

0:53:120:53:16

"what the apparatus was like." But his pleading goes nowhere.

0:53:160:53:20

It was another decade before Fessenden's echolocation

0:53:230:53:26

invention was finally taken seriously.

0:53:260:53:28

It transforms maritime safety for ships navigating in waters

0:53:310:53:35

with treacherous ice floes.

0:53:350:53:37

By World War II, thousands of ships are equipped with sonar.

0:53:400:53:44

And it will quickly become a fixture of every vessel in every sea.

0:53:460:53:50

But soon, echo ranging doesn't just allow ships to see hazards,

0:53:520:53:56

it lets fishermen spot their catch.

0:53:560:54:00

It allows scientists to explore the last great

0:54:000:54:02

mysteries of our oceans, revealing hidden landscapes,

0:54:020:54:06

and resources, helping seismologists chart earthquake fault lines.

0:54:060:54:11

Sonar was even one of the technologies used to search for

0:54:140:54:18

the Titanic three-and-a-half kilometres below the surface,

0:54:180:54:22

73 years after it sank.

0:54:220:54:24

But Fessenden's innovation has had the most transformative

0:54:240:54:28

effect on our health.

0:54:280:54:30

Today, ultrasound technology allows babies and their mothers to survive

0:54:350:54:41

complications that would have been fatal just a few decades ago.

0:54:410:54:45

And we've actually kind of come full circle,

0:54:450:54:48

we're now using ultrasound on pregnant dolphins.

0:54:480:54:52

-So that's the...

-That's the heartbeat.

0:54:560:54:58

That's the heartbeat of the baby dolphin.

0:54:580:55:00

Do we know if it's a girl or a boy?

0:55:020:55:03

-I think I've seen maybe some boy parts.

-Oh, really.

0:55:030:55:06

So we're sort of thinking it's a boy.

0:55:060:55:08

She's not showing much. Looking good.

0:55:080:55:10

She looks really good. Being streamlined helps a lot.

0:55:100:55:13

So we're just bouncing our sound waves using our advanced

0:55:130:55:16

technology here. Somewhere in the dolphin womb there is a tiny

0:55:160:55:22

baby dolphin who may or may not be hearing our sound waves.

0:55:220:55:25

Kind of like, "What is that noise?

0:55:250:55:28

-"Why are people talking to me?"

-Exactly.

0:55:280:55:30

That is really cool.

0:55:300:55:32

I remember my wife and I found out that our first child was

0:55:400:55:43

going to be a boy using an ultrasound.

0:55:430:55:45

If you think about it,

0:55:450:55:47

it's really incredible. I mean, this just about as important a piece

0:55:470:55:50

of information as you're ever going to receive in your life,

0:55:500:55:52

the sex of your unborn child.

0:55:520:55:54

And it comes to us by sending sound waves through

0:55:540:55:58

and listening to echoes off of the bones and tissue of our bodies.

0:55:580:56:02

In the 150 years since Edouard-Leon Scott first recorded his voice, the

0:56:060:56:12

journey of sound has been all about discovering ever more inventive

0:56:120:56:17

ways of sending it - be it over the airwaves or right inside our bodies.

0:56:170:56:22

You could argue that the most transformative part of that

0:56:250:56:28

journey was where it began - capturing the sound of our voices,

0:56:280:56:34

in song, and in conversation.

0:56:340:56:37

Sound recording gives us

0:56:370:56:39

the ability to revisit the most cherished memories in our lives.

0:56:390:56:43

I mean, I know I can't separate out my memories of adolescence

0:56:430:56:47

from the music that I listened to as a teenager.

0:56:470:56:50

And today, hearing one of those tracks can send me

0:56:500:56:53

back to the past in a heartbeat.

0:56:530:56:56

Sound recording becomes a part of who we are.

0:56:560:57:00

And that's why it's fitting, really, when we packed up the Voyager

0:57:040:57:08

spacecraft in 1977 to send into uncharted space

0:57:080:57:13

as a gift to unknown civilisations, one of the main objects we included

0:57:130:57:17

to represent all of humanity was a gold-plated phonograph disc.

0:57:170:57:22

Recorded on it were greetings in 55 different languages.

0:57:230:57:27

Just last year,

0:57:320:57:33

NASA announced that Voyager One had left the solar system.

0:57:330:57:38

It will be roughly 40,000 years before it encounters another

0:57:380:57:41

planetary system.

0:57:410:57:43

But when it does,

0:57:430:57:45

it will be carrying the sound of the human voice saying, "Hello."

0:57:450:57:50

The ability to transport our voices over long distances has been one of the greatest transformations in how we live our lives. Innovation expert Steven Johnson traces the unsung heroes of sound, like the printer in France who first recorded the human voice, the maverick inventor who made radio possible through a mistake and the Hollywood star who used the keys of the piano to inspire encrypted messages. Together they helped set off a chain reaction of innovations which have shaped the modern world.


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