This is by far the most unique track on Factory Showroom
. They recorded it at the Edison Museum
in West Orange, NJ when they were invited there to demonstrate to visitors how wax cylinder
recording works. The recording process uses no electricity
at all and involves singing into a four-foot cone that forces the sound pressure down and gathers it through a vibrating diaphragm then a stylus carves grooves into a heated cylinder of wax
The lyrics consist of several instances where it is difficult to understand someone because of poor speaker technology
. Perhaps the Johns were also poking fun at how frivolous we sometimes use speakers in our society.
Do we really need a mic/speaker setup at a fast food restaurant? Why don't we just order at the window?
Why call from a plane if you're going to call when you land anyway?
The following is an excerpt from an interview with John Flansburgh
by Paul Goracke of earpollution.com. The full interview can be viewed at the address listed below.
For me, that song is not specifically about electricity so much as the speaker
. It's hard for people to imagine living in a world without speakers
, but the introduction of the wax cylinder was also the introduction...except for music boxes, there was no such thing as amplification through something like a horn. It was just something that hadn't been developed yet. Now, everywhere we go...between the two of us there are four little speakers--two receivers and two speakers--that we're talking into, and it's just a part of our lives that affects us in every way.
What's weird is that a doorbell, or a clock radio, or an intercom...all that stuff goes back to Thomas Edison
creating the wax cylinder recorder. We were making a recording on this wax cylinder, so it was kind of a meditation on the long chain of things that have come since this one invention. It's kind of crazy...think about when you're seeing a science fiction movie, how unbelievable certain things seem--say somebody touches their forehead and something jumps out, you just go, "Whoa, that's pretty weird." But speakers are a very weird idea
, that this little circular thing can recreate pretty accurately the sound of music or a voice. That's a pretty haunting idea.
It's a very nice song, and I think the way you recorded it adds so many layers to it.
Yeah. It was very much inspired by our ability to record something on it...it was written for the event. Because we had the opportunity to record a song on a wax cylinder, I wanted to write a song that was kind of a tribute to the device. It's not a sentimental song--it's a kind of funny song--but I do think it's...I'm just fascinated by sound and especially fascinated by the mechanical reproduction of sound. It just seems very amazing.
(full interview available at http://www.earpollution.com/nov99/profiles/tmbg/tmbg.htm)
According to TMBG.org the following address contains lots of info on the recording of "I Can Hear You" along with photographs. Unfortunately the site has been having problems and I have not yet been able to access the article.