In Holden Chapel, the smallest and one of the oldest buildings in the Yard, Professor F. C. Packard Jr. '20, head of the department of public speaking, has introduced a diminutive machine that will enable each student not only to hear and criticize the voices of his fellow class-mates, but his own as well.
The telegraphone has been in commercial use for several years. Dartmouth has already employed it to a limited extent in the work of improving young men's speaking voices. Professor Packard, who was director of dramatics last year at Dartmouth, and thus had an opportunity to see the machine in operation, will, however, probably be the first instructor to further elaborate its use by installing a loudspeaker attachment. This will, of course, prove more convenient and efficient than the ear-phones previously relied upon. And the experimentation which Professor Packard intends to carry on during the second half year, may well led to improvements in the present equipment of the radio.
The machine itself is decidedly unimpressive in general appearance. A wooden box scarcely the size of the smallest of radio receiving sets, contains everything save the three dry cells required for running the voice transmission machinery. Like any phonograph or mechanical flatiron the device can be wired to an ordinary electric light circuit. It resembles a typewriter when one raises the cover. For the recording wire, nearly two miles in length, is coiled upon two revolving wheels, like the more conventional typewriter ribbon spools. When the machinery is operating, the wire is carried through a tiny box, passing a magnetizing device which places the voice on the wire much in the same manner as employed in the telephone. Automatically, machinery raises and lowers the wire as in the case of a sewing machine that loads its own spools; the wire is thus sprayed in perfect alignment over the full width of the wheels upon which it winds and unwinds. When operating, the telegraphone makes practically no sound and only an ordinary speaking voice is required to create a record. The machine will receive dictations for a period ranging from 28 to 35 minutes, depending upon the speed with which the speaker enunciates.
Most ingenious and almost uncanny are the uses of the telegraphone. One may record a steady, even speech of about a half an hour, or he may catch fragments, separating them by brief intervals of silence. At any time the machine may be reversed in order that reproduction may be carried on. But the process of rendering the record audible does not destroy it. Once anyone has spoken into the transmitter a permanent record is set down which may be preserved literally forever. Moreover, the wire may be cut and repaired like moving picture film, with no danger to the machine over which it is revolved. For Professor Packard's work, however, the most interesting tricks which the telegraphone can accomplish are its powers of endless reproduction and at the same time, when required, lack of permanence. Thus a student steps to the transmitter, speaks a few words and then only does the real work begin. Professor Packard reverses the wire, the student hears his own voice and may at will correct it. For by simply pressing a lever the student with a little practice may transpose a second record on top of the original. The machine in this case automatically erases and captures the new shade of tone. In the practice of set speeches or the rehearsal of a difficult scene in a play, this ability of the telegraphone to change its record of the student's voice proves invaluable. And after the period of instruction, at the will of the instructor, the record may be preserved for eternity or simply be rubbed out and the wire made ready for the next day's work.
With the coming of his loud-speaker apparatus Professor intends not only to allow his students to hear their own defects of speech, but to study the methods of projecting the voice for purposes of broadcasting. The experiments at the telephonic transmitter in Holden Chapel will without much doubt procedure before the microphone. Professor Packard's background seems peculiarly fitted for such valuable experimentation. For a time he acted with Professor George P. Baker, '87 in the 47 Workshop Company, then while still serving as Professor I. L. Winter's assistant in the department of public speaking, he produced a number of amateur plays in and about Boston, later himself going on the stage and filling among other important positions that of stage manager in the exciting production of Eugene O'Neill's play, "The Great God Brown." During the past summer as one of the three American representatives at the conference of dramatic critics at Salzburk Professor Packard was able to associate intimately with Max Reinhardt, Ferenc Molnar and many others among the leading producers and playwrights of the European stage. With this immense and varied background he will be in such a position as few of those experimenters and students of the human voice have previously enjoyed.