Sunday, July 15, 2007


The Travel Log

I've an article in this week's New Scientist on Charles Kellogg, the "Nature Singer" of the vaudeville circuit who took his act onto the road in 1917 to save California redwoods. Namely, to draw attention to them he toured in this Flinstonian proto-RV that he hacked and sawed out of a single whopping chunk of Giant Sequoia.

He's quite a character indeed:

He liked to announce, with a showman’s hyperbole, that he had a 12 1⁄2 octave range—nearly double that of a piano.... By 1916 The Nature Singer had squawked and twittered his way into an RCA recording contract, teaming up with the Victor Orchestra to create nature-themed novelty songs. He also developed another curious claim to fame by discovering in John Tyndall’s 1867 treatise On Sound a trick worthy of “high-class vaudeville”: that a carefully regulated flame could be extinguished by the right frequency of sound. Kellogg learned to pitch his voice to achieve this, and showed off the feat to audiences and fire departments alike. To the latter he popularised a curious notion about the future of firefighting. “According to this theory,” reported the New York Times in 1912, “one may live to see giant tuning forks or musical instruments taking the place of fire engines.”....

His 1916 recording of “Flower Song” was recently dubbed “The Most Annoying Record Ever Created” by an audio engineer handling its digital transfer: “He sounds more like an angry cat being slowly pressed to death... I had to leave the room when transferring it.”
One fun fact I left on the cutting room floor: Kellogg revived his "Fire Extinguisher" act in 1926 for fire departments, leaving the New York Times to credulously report--this is an actual headline-- TUNING FORK SCREECH PUTS OUT 24-INCH FLAME; FUTURE FIREMEN TO STAY HOME, SAYS SCIENTIST. By using Oakland's radio station KGO to put out a flame in front of a speaker miles away, Kellogg floated the idea of extinguishing house fires by just turning on the radio.

I love that image: Friend, is your house burning down? Well, just ease back in your recliner and turn on some relaxing music to put it out....

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