Oh internet oracle, in your dusty archives
September 1, 2012 2:26 AM   Subscribe

Tracking down an old story about a person who was using some sort of method to detect the impressions of sound waves in objects in order to replay old conversations. Anybody got an inkling what it might be?

Nothing is known beyond this (I'm tracking it down on behalf of somebody); it might've been a novel, film, short story, etc. I thought it was an unusual enough concept that it would show up fairly readily if somebody knew it.
posted by solarion to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You might be remembering the Belgian researchers from a few years ago, a hoax. Language Log describes many instances of the idea.
posted by cgc373 at 2:39 AM on September 1, 2012

Are you thinking of the idea that sound can be captured in the grooves of clay pots? (on preview, what cgc373 said)

The archaeoacoustics page on Wikipedia lists a few examples from popular culture that use this idea:
  • Gregory Benford's 1979 short story "Time Shards" concerns a researcher who recovers thousand-year-old sound from a piece of pottery thrown on a wheel and inscribed with a fine wire as it spun. The sound is then analyzed to reveal conversations between the potter and his assistant in Middle English.
  • Rudy Rucker's 1981 short story "Buzz" includes a small section of audio recovered from ancient Egyptian pottery.
  • A 2000 episode of The X-Files, "Hollywood A.D.", features "The Lazarus Bowl", a mythical piece of pottery reputed to have recorded on it the words that Jesus Christ spoke when he raised Lazarus from the dead. ....
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation used this in 2005 episode Committed, where an inmate's conversation is partially recorded on a clay jar.
  • In the first season episode of Fringe entitled "The Road Not Taken", an electron microscope is used to reproduce sounds captured on a partially melted window.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:44 AM on September 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

There's a short-short that has researchers getting a snatch of conversation from a clay pot - on preview, I think hurdy gurdy girl's got it - I'm thinking of the Benford.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:01 AM on September 1, 2012

This sort of thing - recovering old sounds one way or another was a big thing about 100 years ago. The Memory Palace has a piece on this.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:16 AM on September 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Could it be J. G. Ballard's "The Sound-Sweep" (Science Fantasy, February 1960)?
posted by languagehat at 7:03 AM on September 1, 2012

Episode 62 of Mythbusters tested this idea - - FWIW, it was busted.
posted by fairmettle at 7:59 AM on September 1, 2012

I should've mentioned it's definitely a story, not a real life event. I was aware of the Mythbusters one and the thing about clay pots.

Still, there's a few stories there. I'll give them all some looks and get back to you all.
posted by solarion at 8:36 AM on September 1, 2012

Episode 12 of the Memory Palace talks about Marconi's ideas on this subject. It's likely not what you're looking for, but I decided to share it because it's wonderful and because it might jog somebody's memory.
posted by grudgebgon at 8:47 AM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh man, this reminds me of Jorn Barger's tape-imprinting theory of 1993. I bet just about every geek in the Chicago metro area heard Jorn talk about this at some point. Things could get heated; there were people Jorn would no longer speak to because their counterarguments had been insensitively expressed.
posted by tangerine at 12:49 PM on September 1, 2012

It's not quite a match, but it reminds me of Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the Universe by Haruki Murakami. The End of The World part has a plot about a guy who's reading dreams from unicorn skulls, and Hard Boiled Wonderland has a plot about a scientist trying to extract sound from animal skulls in a similar way, but uh, more, uh, realistically.

I also felt like I had to throw this book out there, even though it's not a perfect match to what you described, because it's such a weird coincidence that you used the word "inkling" because creatures called INKlings are importantish in HBW&TEOTU
posted by lesli212 at 5:02 PM on September 1, 2012

This technology was used by the alien invaders in the cheesy Slash Maraud comic book put out by DC in the late 80's.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 8:14 PM on September 1, 2012

There's a pdf of a scanned copy of "The Sound-Sweep" linked here, if you want to check it out (I'm guessing it's not the one you had in mind, but you never know).
posted by languagehat at 11:36 AM on September 2, 2012

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