Sound Never Dies

A blog entry by Kevin considering Marconi’s theory that sound never dies.

Guglielmo Marconi, one of the great pioneers of long distance radio transmission, had an epiphany late in his life. He became convinced that sound never dies. It just becomes too quiet for our human ears to detect. So theoretically if he could build the right listening device any sound could be recoverable. He was particularly interested in what piece of music the orchestra was playing as the titanic went down (in fact he was supposed to be on that ocean liner but circumstance made him change his plans). However, it was his dearest dream to be able to hear Jesus’s sermon on the mount.

Marconi with early radio apparatus shortly after his arrival in England in 1896 at age 21.

Marconi with early radio apparatus in 1896 at age 21.

Such a beautiful idea. Imagine being able to listen in on the very first performance of Hamlet, The Rite Of Spring or a Nirvana rehearsal? We could relive all those unrecorded personal moments like the first time someone told you they loved you. Sitting with our new Marconi machine for the first time we would listen intently as we try to dial into those three wonderful words. Turning the knob through the centuries we would hear voices and sounds from the past emerging and submerging in the white noise – a roman soldier whistling on Hadrians wall, a young boy conversing with his action man toys, a woman laughing at something said in a language you don’t recognize, hammers and anvils and hooves, the very first stringed instrument, a quill scratching, a typewriter tapping, an exorcism, the day you said your last goodbye…

Of course Marconi was wrong.1 Sound waves do not live forever. And the collection of sounds that make up that particular phrase “I love you” do not live forever out there somewhere below our threshold of hearing. We open our mouths and as the vibrations travel out and into the air around our heads, the waves spread out farther and farther in all directions. As the energy of the sound is transferred to more and more molecules of air, they vibrate less and less until the effect is lost in the constant random jostle of air molecules. The sound is gone. In other words, you can’t splash enough in the water to make a wave that will travel across an ocean.

Ultimately, I think this is for the best. How stilted we all would act if we knew everything we said could be re-examined at a later date. And like all technology I believe it would eventually end up in the wrong hands and be used by the few to exert power over the many. Then there’s the logistics of storing all that audio, not to mention copyright issues. The NSA would need to commandeer a small country for the server farms required.

And yet even if the sound energy of the sermon on the mount is not still out there in the ether waiting to be downloaded and used as a ringtone, I think it is obvious that the original spiritual energy of it is. That first “I love you” lives long after the sound waves have died. It lasts at least one lifetime. I’d like to think two.

  1. I’m not sure where this story about Marconi originated. I’ve heard it a few times but I can’t find it’s true source. I don’t believe he actually thought that sound waves never died. He was far too smart for that. On a side note, when he himself died, as a tribute, all radio stations throughout the world observed two minutes of silence the following day. 

7 Responses to Sound Never Dies

  1. hb says:

    Lovely poetic blog entry….Makes me think of Om…

    “Om is the “primordial seed” of the universe—this whole world, says one ancient text, “is nothing but om.” It is also considered to be the root mantra from which all other mantras emerge… ” Yoga Journal

  2. Le Ann Fultz says:

    That was so thearapeutic to read after a long day…Now for some silence before resting.Thank you! Jesus…the sound of his name will live on in this heart for eternity.For now,a life or two will do.

  3. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the feedback Ann. And thank you HB for the Om comment. That’s food for thought.

  4. […] Esta última possibilidade especulativa, patente na progressiva instabilização e na estrutura repetitiva da peça de Bryars, não deixa de nos convocar para essa outra ideia de que o som pode desvanecer-se mas nunca desaparece3. «O som nunca morre»4, terá dito Guglielmo Marconi, inventor da telegrafia sem fios (TSF)5. Na sua velhice, o engenheiro italiano acreditara na hipótese de que os sons do mundo nunca desapareceriam e continuariam eternamente em indefinidas e progressivamente mais silenciosas ondas sonoras. O ouvido humano não estaria apto para detectar essas frequências já desvanecidas e perdidas no tempo, mas essas ondas sonoras existiriam, como se o som tivesse uma vida misteriosa e autónoma para além do mundo e do tempo humanos. A partir desta inquietação, Marconi sonhara com uma máquina que, através de filtros específicos e de aparelhagem ultrassensível, conseguisse ouvir e recuperar todos os sons já criados, e voltar a oferecê-los à percepção humana. A hipótese, talvez borgeana, seria a de ouvir através do tempo, a de perscrutar uma Terra cheia de sons à espera de serem reavivados pela antena correcta6. […]

  5. Dan Duerr says:

    Flash ahead three years. I’d like to use this sound never dies technology to solve a few world mysteries. Might need assistance from the verbally inspired.

  6. Abdullah khan says:

    Before every invention and discovery no one believe, it is possible? Nothing is impossible , i agree with marconi one day we will hear not only the voices but also the videos of the past, believe it

  7. Adam says:

    If there exists the possibility of sound uttered through spoken words or performed by mankind throughout the ages of time gone by well the other possibility which may seem improbable and impossible as the first is that a device can be constructed to pick up these omitted sounds of past history gone by and convert it to images just as an old television set used to pick up a channel whilst one was turning the switch left or right until the static clears and a picture is projected on the screen.

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