In 1968, on the occasion of my 12th birthday, I met Brother Craig 212 –– a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder that was my first teacher of directed, focused listening.
The Craig 212 was a battery operated tape recorder that used 1/4” wide recording tape spooled onto 3” diameter reels. The cassette tape format had been invented just a couple of years before but was not widely used yet. The 3” open reel recording machine was the preferred format for “living letters” of the type soldiers would send home to loved ones as they described the days and nights of their tour of duty in Vietnam.
Instead of dreaming about getting a BB gun, a new Carl Yastrzemski baseball glove or a Schwinn Stingray bicycle for my birthday, I was focused on tape recording and tape recording machines.
I don’t remember getting the idea that a tape recording machine was needed in my life, but I do remember pitching the practicality of the idea to my parents at the kitchen table –– “I could use it to record the voices of Memere and Pepere” (my maternal grandparents). I realized, even at that age, the powerful metaphysical medicine of a tape recorder was best described in oblique terms, with an emphasis on its practical, documentarian function in the world of form. “I can practice my spelling and it will help me memorize my history facts and dates”, my pitch went on.
My pitch of practicality was convincing. With no resistance, my parents consulted Consumer Reports Magazine, found the highly-rated Craig 212 portable tape machine and it arrived in time for the summer solstice, my birthday. As it was summer and I was out of school there were no facts or dates to memorize. This allowed Brother Craig 212 to begin its own teaching curriculum free from the constraints and practicality of the lessons taught at Saint James School.
Brother Craig 212 was the first of many verbally-silent teachers I have learned from (I’ll talk about reeds and reed flute teachers another time). The teachings delivered via a reel to reel tape machine are manifested through the dialog of the teacher and the student. “The teacher and the student together make the teaching” it has been said. The teachings are revealed to the student through the interactive and iterative efforts of the student to hear what the teacher has to say.
In retrospect, I realize now the Craig 212 reel to reel tape machine was the first electronic form-object I recognized as being more than an object –– the Craig 212 was a kind of electronic brother, a brother that spoke its own language and had its own teachings to deliver. A being, and one I regarded with affection.
The essential teaching of a tape recorder is focused listening, awarenes. Because the tape recorder has the ability to capture sound, it inspires a sense of enhanced power and observation. With my Craig 212 recorder at hand I began to listen to the world with more interest and focus –– what would be worthy of recording? What would it sound like recorded then played back at 1/2 speed?
My Craig 212 recorder had inherent capabilities but it was up to me to work with it, and by extension, work with my own power to observe sound and silence and activate a communion between machine and boy.
The most obvious, and handiest place to start with a tape recorder is to make voice recordings of one’s own voice and the voice of a best friend. My friend and I would listen in amazement at how our voice sounded different heard without the “bone conduction” channel in our heads that gives the sound of our voice as we hear it, a different, more “embodied” quality than the acoustic sound of our voice heard by others or by a tape recorders. So this was a revelation –– the sound of one’s voice is different in one’s head than what is heard by an external listener.
Pretty soon mechanical objects like fans, motors and automobiles would draw my attention and I would record the whirs, vibrations, rattles and road noises make by them. The great teaching leap occurred when I became less interested in foreground object sounds and discovered background ambience could be noticed as well. On the gauge of nothing to something, making recordings of background ambience moves the needle in the direction of paying attention to nothing in particular.
You see, paying attention to nothing in particular is just a few steps away from recognizing that one is paying attention –– that one is conscious.
But the world of form is very alluring. While I shifted my attention from prominent foreground sound objects like voices, or my friends musical groups and made more recordings of wind in the trees, moving water or just a quiet Sunday morning before anyone was awake in the house …. I was still observing and making recordings of forms.
It would be many years before other teachers would appear to show me that I could transcend being aware of object-sounds and become “aware of being aware” –– conscious. Awakened, for at least a few moments at a time.
But Brother Craig 212 was my first teacher of sound and silence awareness. I have a special place in my heart for this being-teacher who used no words and who let me discover its teachings on my own.