Decades ago, visitors to the local state fair could pay 35¢, step into a booth, record themselves singing or talking, and receive a playable acetate record with their voice on it. The technology was fundamentally similar to that used in recording most music from the 1920s, with the results distinctly lo-fi -- a connecting thread through the era's blues, folk, jazz and opera recordings.
Earlier this year, San Francisco's own Goodnight, Texas recorded in one of these same booths -- a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph, to be exact, restored by Jack White's Third Man Records in Nashville. You might remember the eerie-sounding album Neil Young released a couple years ago, recorded in this booth; you can watch him recording a song in it below.
Goodnight, Texas' For My Mother's Wedding isn't an album, per se, but rather a collection of songs released via pay-what-you-want download, themed around frontman Avi Vincour's mother's wedding. As recorded in the 1947 Voice-o-Graph, the music sounds wonderfully jarring. The booth's acetates aren't perfect, by any means; in these Goodnight, Texas songs, the pitch fluctuates, the sound drops out, and surface noise abounds. The sensation is akin to viewing a photo of a close friend done in tintype -- a current object replicated through a process inextricably linked with the past.
"Hearing them for the first time was pretty unbelievable," says Goodnight, Texas' Avi Vinocur. "It really sounded like it was recorded 80 years ago."
Nowhere is the disconnect more evident than in the song "Coattails," when amidst the record's vintage crackle and hiss comes the out-of-place line "My brain's been fried by the internet / and maybe yours has too."
At places on the recording, songs start to skip in a locked groove, a symptom of the booth's time limitations (each 6" acetate can only contain two and half minutes' worth of music, roughly). Intentionally adopting the less-convenient processes of the past for an affected result is an oft-mocked trend in twee indie culture, but Vinocur's genuine passion for the history of recording -- and especially its most rudimentary, mechanical forms -- is evident.
"The early forms of it," he says, "the way we figured out how to use a microphone to record things directly onto a piece of vinyl -- it’s an amazing thing that we as humans figured out how to do. Watching this machine do it live, while you’re recording, is incredible and surreal."
Listen to For My Mother's Wedding below, or visit Goodnight, Texas' Bandcamp page for more.