At the speed of soundproof. From way back in 1951. Look up. Its a bat winged thingie? No. its only a flying saucer…
Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
This wonderful advert is from a 1951 issue of “High Fidelity” magazine. it’s one of those amazing images that you sometimes find in old mags that stops you dead in your tracks and pops your cork. It’s sorta perfect, ya know? Of course, back then, it wouldn’t have all the hip cool patina that time has given to the ideas behind this advert. Now we look at it and think that the past design actually looked like this and we all want to emulate it. That is a great working definition of the biggest most popular style of our post-postmodern era. We call it ‘retro.’ this ad is soooooo RETRO!
The reality is very different. This ad would have been lost in the pages of magazine back then – no big deal. Shuffling through the issue shows it to be full of really really conservative old school advertising and the music covered is 99% classical. There are occasional nifty period illustrations (usually only b&w) by now notable (then obscure) illustrators of the era like Richard M. Powers. But, the magazine is typically safe dross overall, even stale. The market for hi-fi back in those days was the single male with a nice post-war income and no place to spend this sudden influx of free cash. So, they got into hot-rodding their music equipment (many of them were trained in basic electronics during the war). Many spent a significant amount of their money and free time soldering together rather amazing record players and amplifiers and speakers. It became a sort of golden age of home electronics – almost all DIY. High- Fidelity magazine catered to this market – a ‘popular mechanics’ of sound.
The music these single men listened to was not sophisticated. The really hip and courageous listeners would collect and play jazz- but mostly not ‘bop’ or ‘cool’ jazz (which was an extremely small market even back then). They bought classical and mood music for ‘background soundtracks for their private lives’. Sitting at home with a drink and a pipe (a fad at the time), reading a book or newspaper at the end of the hard work day was standard operating procedure. In 1951, television was in it’s infancy and there may have been only one tv set in your entire neighborhood – with nothing on to watch (still much like to day).
So ‘home entertainment’ still focused on music. The new long-playing recording disk allowed entire symphonies to be recorded on a single disk (rather than on four to ten 78 rpm records like the past), so you could actually choose the music to listen to and then actually hear it and relax without having to get up to repeatedly change the disk. This was totally new. The only other place to hear uninterrupted music was on the tinny sounding radio (between commercials), But you couldn’t choose when to hear the music. You relied on the channel schedules.
The sort of music that became standardized as a result of all this was what was considered familiar ‘oldies’ of the time (aka, big band swing of the war years) and gentle relaxing sounds of ballads and crooners alongside pleasant renditions of light classical and pop hits. Actual soundtracks for popular films were also extremely popular. Thus was born ‘easy listening’ music – the beginnings of canned ‘muzak’. The performers were almost generic in style and impact and became synonymous with boring, especially when rock and r&b and jazz took over the newly created port war ‘teenager’ market. High Fidelity became synonymous with dullsville.
This really cool ad, with it’s crazy colors and type and wild tag lines and amazing flying saucer is actually taken from a record cover of the era. About the time of this release, the brand new wondrous world of ‘stereo’ was intro
d to America. That had the sad (but profitable) result of making all those amazing home built hi-fi’s obsolete and they seemingly all went to the dump. They were quickly replaced by new-fangled affordable ‘stereo’ players that were commercially built instead. It consolidated the market in the hands of the corporations.
Whenever they try to sell new tech in the marketplace, the first rule is to create a demand (rule two: supply that demand). Just like they constantly try to sell us stuff we really have no need for (why do we NEED ipads, exactly?) the same was true of stereo. The record companies were financially backed by stereo equipment manufacturers to release demonstration records that showed how amazing stereo could sound. The lamest (and actually coolest) sorts of these records were little more than ‘special effect’ novelty records with the sounds bouncing back and forth between the stereo speaker cabinets.
But the bulk of these new stereo records were stereo recordings of performers taking advantage of the new tech in their music. They would actually record IN STEREO – creating new ‘like you were actually there’ aural qualities. This really cool ad is for a record promoted by Westminster Hi-Fi (and stereo) equipment showing off this new technology. The performers? Ferrante & Tiecher! Yeesh. But, it could have been worse. It could have been Mantovani. He did lots of them, too.
Keep in mind that the flying saucer phenom was also in it’s infancy (as was a huge revival in a new science fiction writing). The first modern “flying saucer” sighting of importance happened in 1947 over Mt. Rainier, Washington (near tacoma). It’s also where the term “flying saucer” was coined (by a reporter shortening the pilot kenneth arnold’s description of how these things he saw flew.) So, the whole idea of “modern’ and “innovative” and “the future of recording” incorporating a flying saucer is sort of a perfect eye-catching metaphor for stereo. That’s about it. The name of the release is “Soundproof.” Try to tie that in, eh?
The one thing that intrigues me about this image, though, is the design of the flying saucer itself. Keep in mind that what Kenneth Arnold actually described seeing over Mt. Rainier in 1947 was actually 9 ‘bat-wing’ shaped crafts flying in formation “like a saucer skipping over the water”. The whole idea of circular and flat (like a saucer) came from that. Nobody had seen an actual ‘saucer shaped’ object in the sky up until the phrase was coined in the press. After that, the public imagination saw ONLY disk-shaped objects in the sky. And because the most common and popular astronomical (and coolest naturally designed) object in the heavens was the planet Saturn, the initlal ‘sightings after the ‘flying saucer’ term was coined was a ‘Saturn shaped object’ – like this image in this ad. Funny, huh?
Later that same year (I believe) or soon thereafter, the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still “was released. In that film, the first actual ‘flying SAUCER’ spacecraft made it’s initial public appearance. It was a huge hit and after that movie, the flying saucer craze was upon us in spades. EVERY unidentified thingie seen in the skies for the next decade was described as ‘saucer’ shaped. Oh, there were other odd shapes (the ‘cigar shaped” mother ships among them) but certainly not bat wings and rarely a Saturn shape. Too old-school! saucers were the new hip thing to see!
So, who designed this infamous new shape in that movie? Well, that’s curious as well. The man seemingly responsible for designing the popular concept of what a ‘flying saucer’ looks like was the guy who designed that prop spacecraft for that hugely successful film. I’ve read in several credible sources that the art director of that film consulted with one of the most famous and respected architect/designers of the era on the flying saucer design. Basically, the modern flying saucer shape that has haunted our pop psychosis for so many decades was actually created or even ‘invented’ by this creative consultant. his name was FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT.
Huntley Dent: I never find it inspiring to wander in the graveyard of lost art, and unbuilt architecture is as lost as paintings destroyed by aerial bombardment in World War II. Here, however, I also had to mourn a lost America. Wright was not in essence a futurist. His final phase, full of Atomic Age flying saucers (he envisioned a resort for Huntington Hartford based on saucer shapes cantilevered out over a mountain side, with even the swimming pool suspended in mid air), needle-like skyscrapers pointing a mile high, and frisbee-like pancakes redolent of the Starship Enterprise, still remained true to Wright’s Emersonian values. He was a meliorist of the soul, a believer in the spirit radiating outward into Nature as Nature radiated inward, both merging without break or boundary. The Puritans thought of America as an invisible world made visible; so did he. Read More:http://berkshirereview.net/2009/07/frank-lloyd-wright-from-within-outward-guggenheim-museum-new-york/