House Of Tudor

Lost & Found Sound

In what sounds like the warm quietude of early afternoon, when morning chores have ended and preparations for dinner have not yet begun, a woman sings to her child about difficulty and despair. "Mama?" asks the hesitant toddler, her inexperienced lips curling around her words. "Mama, can a baby feel blue?" "Anyone can feel blue, baby," says Mama, resuming her song with greater potency, in a low and lissome voice that is slowly swallowed by the crackle of time.

This phonic trace of American life is one of more than 30,000 recordings collected over the last 50 years by "sound gatherer" Tony Schwartz. Recently, the Kitchen Sisters, producers of NPR's Peabody Award-winning radio series Lost & Found Sound, traveled to New York City to bring Schwartz's work into American homes. In turn Schwartz -- who suffers from an agoraphobic condition that prevents him from venturing beyond his postal code -- brought us America. Through the simple sounds of his ever-changing neighborhood, we visit taxicabs, street festivals, jukeboxes, and political rallies; we listen to jump-roping children, arguing lovers, nightclub barkers, and an improvised duet between a clarinet and a pair of high-heeled shoes. Just as reading a story is more evocative than seeing that same story on film, Schwartz's sound clips persuade the mind to conjure and remember in a way that leaves photographs flat.

Lost & Found Sound: Volume One, a compilation of the best clips from the radio series, ventures to weave audio artifacts, sonic experiences, and private musings into one public reminiscence. On the first disc, "Vanishing Voices," we hear from Schwartz and a man who was an eyewitness to the Gettysburg Address; we explore the fading art of carnival talkers and sideshow pitchmen; and we rediscover the lost art of el lector, the professional orators who read the works of Zola, Cervantes, and Karl Marx to cigar workers in the early 1900s. On disc two, "Sonic Snapshots," we listen to President Lyndon Johnson carry on a dignified phone conversation with a helium-afflicted astronaut who sounds like a cartoon mouse; we eavesdrop on Tennessee Williams as he and his friends read early drafts of A Streetcar Named Desirein a coin-operated recording booth; and we receive cosmic weather reports through the snap and crackle of northern lights. While some of the segments last mere seconds, those moments stretch through years until you find yourself sitting next to the young boy suffering from the death of his soft-shelled turtle. "It's sort of a tragedy for me," says the boy. "I'm gonna play "Taps' for 'im." The Kitchen Sisters celebrate the release of Lost & Found Sound: Volume One on Monday, Feb. 19, at Black Oak Books in Berkeley (1491 Shattuck Ave. at Vine) at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; call (510) 486-0698. They also appear on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Booksmith (1644 Haight near Clayton) at 7 p.m. Admission is free; call 863-8688. And on Thursday, Feb. 22, at Borders Books Music and Cafe (400 Post at Powell) at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free; call 399-1633.

 
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