Blogs > Cliopatria > The history of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow

Oct 21, 2011

The history of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow

History of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow from SansGil—Gil Cocker on Vimeo.

"For nearly 21 minutes, the camera moves gently around Winslow in a recording studio as he impersonates the noises of 32 typewriters. Inter-titles announce the dates of the respective machines' manufacture, their brand and model number. It is an absorbing feat of mimicry. From the frantic clucking and strenuous creaking of his ‘1895 Barlock Mod. 4', through to the ping-pong sounds of the ‘1954 Hermes Mod. Baby', and concluding with the ‘1983 Olympia Monika Deluxe', Winslow produces a percussive tour de force that could take its place alongside the Dada sound poetry of Raoul Hausmann or Kurt Schwitters and the cartoon exuberance of voice actor Mel Blanc. Although not apparent in the film itself, Uriarte filmed The History of the Typewriter … in the Berlin studio of the industrial noise band Einstürzende Neubauten, who pioneered the use of customized instruments and machinery in the early 1980s.

"Winslow performs with precision and concentration, as if executing a particularly torturous piece of chamber music punctuated by moments of impish irreverence. His performance conjures images of a secretary trotting out a dictated letter on 1932's cutting-edge technology (the inappropriately named Remington Noiseless Portable), or a hack bashing out copy on his newsroom Triumph. (In fact, Uriarte recorded Winslow's imitations of vintage machines from collections in Germany and Switzerland as they were being used to type out the title of the film.) The techniques Winslow uses to achieve the ‘lost' noises are fascinating to observe: by grasping the two microphones like twin pan pipes, gnawing them like corncobs, or grappling, swiping and variously pushing them against his teeth and lips, he produces a glorious vocabulary of fricative letter-hammering, space-bar thuds, platen-knob twisting and carriage-return shunts that seems to encompass chicken-pecking, machete-slashing, strangulation, tap-dancing and QWERTY beat-boxing." Max Andrews, "Ignacio Uriarte," frieze, April 2010. Hat tip.

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