Friday, June 1, 2012

Hearing voices and the wonders of technology

A month and a half ago, I wrote about my fuzzy memory of hearing a recording of Matt reading from some books many years ago. After writing about that memory, I talked with my mom about it, asking her if she remembered any such recording. Without hesitation, she said yes, and in fact, the cassette was in their entertainment center. I am still not sure which is more surprising: that we have that cassette or that Mom knew about it all these years and I could only hope for it to still exist somewhere.

So Mom gave me two tapes that she thought I might be interested in. Last night, I hooked up a cheapy boom box to my computer and listened to them while I recorded with Audacity. On one side of the first tape, I listened to what must have been a 30ish-year-old broadcast from somewhere near Houghton, MI, during a particularly bad snowstorm.

When I put in the other tape, I heard a little over seven minutes of my brother reading from some books with which I was not familiar. Thanks to Google, I was able to find these books based on a short phrase from each. The first was Lentil (Robert McCloskey), followed by Lon Po Po (Ed Young) and The Kid in the Red Jacket (Barbara Park). Immediately after recording, I saved the file and uploaded it to Google Drive and shared it with Nate and my parents.

Something very unexpected happened when I listened to this tape: I found that I didn't recognize Matt's voice. I immediately thought that it was a recording of Nate. (In fact, when I talked with Mom this morning, she said he sounded a lot like Nate, too.) Not only did my brain completely mis-remember the factual data of what book he was reading (Frog and Toad versus three other books), but it also completely missed on what his voice was like.

With the exception of some home videos from when Matt was maybe a year or two old, I think this is the first time I've heard his voice since he died in 1995. It was, needless to say, rather odd hearing his voice 17 years later.

We tend to believe our brains are very much like computers -- retrieving memories is just like opening a file; experiencing something new is creating a new file that is written to disk. Sometimes the file becomes corrupted (due to old age, disease or simply the passage of time) and we lose a memory. This is completely wrong, though. When you remember something, your brain literally re-creates the memory by taking a few pieces of data, re-interpreting it into a more complete story, and writing it back to disk. To remember is to change - if only a little - the memory itself.

After seventeen years, my memory was, as I expected, not accurate. But it's good to hear Matt's voice again.


  1. That's incredible Adam -- I'm glad your mom was able to find those tapes and you were able to listen to them!

  2. lol, btw, that was Aaron who said that. Yay blogging!