16: Song Swap

Phonautograph Illustration

In 1857 Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville was granted a patent for an invention he called
the “Phonautograph.” The contraption was the first to capture sounds, but it did not have a mechanism to play them back. These sounds were locked away until 2008 when researchers found a way to recreate them through modern technology.

Around the time that those sounds were being revived, the decision was made to intentionally make the recording of a song as rare and unique as recordings once were. Alec Duffy, from Hoi Polloi and Jack, won the rights to a previously unheard Sufjan Stevens song in a Christmas contest. Rather than release the song on a wide scale, Alec devised a plan to make every time the song is heard a truly unique experience. Learn about the phonautograph and why Alec usually keeps his song, “The Lonely Man of Winter,” locked away in his Brooklyn home.

Phonautograph recordings for the episode are from FirstSounds.com.

Music Featured

Alec Duffy – “Everyday is Christmas”
Sufjan Stevens – “Chicago” from Come On Feel the Illinoise
Sufjan Stevens – “Casimir Pulaski Day” from Come On Feel the Illinoise


Sufjan Stevens – Michigan
Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas
The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction by Jonathan Sterne

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You can find this episode’s transcript by following this link.

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