To someone in New Guinea ignorant of them, airplanes, radios and polaroid cameras seemed to work by magic. I had a tape recorder from which voices could speak in the villagers’ own language. It did not matter to them that they were listening to what they had just said. At first hearing it was amazing. I learned their language slowly. Later I found out what a few of them first hoped for from the machine. Here is an example: a mother came, rather diffidently, with friends to tell me about her daughter’s death, to record the story as her son had the day before. But on the tape recording she is asking her dead daughter to speak to her, to tell her whether it was really sorcery she died from, or because the branch fell on her neck. Was it the branch or sorcery? Let it say. Tell me, tell me now, you speak, she says. Dameku-she is the mother-does not know what is possible or impossible for the tape recorder. The recording catches her hesitant questioning-she switches from talking to me (telling the story), to addressing the machine, then to asking her daughter to speak. She wishes it could answer but she is uncertain. Her voice is quite matter-of-fact. She is not awestruck by it. The problem for her is the event and the object, to know which are magical events, or magical objects, and which are ordinary. For us, the interest is not the event or object so much as her thinking. What was it about the machine that led her to wonder whether her daughter could speak to her through it? What was it that made her change her mind and put it back among ordinary things? She had had hardly any contact with radios before she heard it. The machine produced Gnau speech. She was familiar with a divination in which the spirits of the dead would answer by beating out their answers on the garamut (slit-gong). Perhaps they could also speak out of the machine. A wish, a doubt-she hoped it might be possible. It was not, I think, something she strongly believed. She abandoned her questioning soon when I said the machine could not answer.
Joseph Begun graduated in 1929 from the Institute of Technology in Berlin, Germany, where he wrote an important research book entitled Magnetic Recording. In 1934/35, Begun built the world’s first tape recorder used for broadcasting. He later created the first consumer tape recorder called the Sound Mirror (patents 2,048,487; 2,048,488).
Depending on their quality and intended use, tape recorders are classified as professional, studio, semiprofessional, or home models. Professional tape recorders are designed for the synchronous recording of sound (with a visual image) on perforated magnetic tape and are used in sound films. Studio recorders for recording on unperforated 6.25-mm magnetic tape are used in radio broadcasting, motion-picture studios, recording studios, television centers, and wherever high-quality sound recording is required. Semiprofessional recorders, most of which require 6.25-mm tape, are used for recording dispatcher communications in transport and for audio-frequency signals in scientific studies. For amateur recording and the playback of commercial tapes, home models are adequate. In addition, there are dictating machines; reporters’ models, light portable machines with independent power supplies; and students’ models, which are designed for parallel dual-track recording and which may be plugged into external monitors in foreign-language labs. Tape decks, as well as combinations of tape recorders and other types of equipment, such as radios and turntables, are available.