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The Phantom Museum: Reel-to-Reel History

In The Conversation, Gene Hackman’s character, Harry Caul used an Ampex AG-350 and German-made UHER units to bug unsuspecting couples. The UHERs were similar to those used during the Nixon administration to bug the Oval Office. Bugging is more ubiquitous than we think, for example, though cinema may try and convince pay-phones are the best place to make that discreet call, they are regularly bugged by intelligence agencies. This was particularly true for the UK and Northern Ireland during the 1970s, when covert surveillance was carried out on paramilitary organizations, those of certain political affiliation, union leaders, Communist Party members and even John Lennon and The Sex Pistols. It therefore must have come as quite a shock to the powers that be, when it was disclosed MI5 had bugged the Prime Minister’s office, at 10 Downing Street, for 15 years.

Over at the Phantom Museum there is an impressive on-line collection of 117 reel-to-reel recorders and 50 microphones, plus an extensive history of reel-to-reel and recording advertising from the late 1800s to present day.

The Museum was established by Martin Theophilus, who has been involved in audio production since 1964, and now runs the multi-media company Phantom Productions. Theophilus says the on-line Museum, “is for people who want to look back and see how recording has evolved.”

In an interview with The Bastrop Advertiser, Theophilus explained:

...recorders were in use as early as 1877 but that the Edison Player, which initially sold for $20 (cylinders were 35 cents), was the first device available to the public. The Edison machine etched microphone vibrations into grooves on spinning wax cylinders. Historically, recorders have used wire, vinyl and other materials.

Theophilus said that commercial and private use of reel-to-reel magnetic tape to record sound, a technique first developed by the Germans during World War II, began in California in 1946 where two captured German machines were reassembled.

The vintage reel-to-reels in Theophilus’ collection were primarily used by singers, musicians and song writers who could not afford to hire professional recording studios.

Beginning in 1948, when portable reel-to-reel machines became available to cash poor artists, they used them to make demos. The demos were distributed to help the artists get jobs. By 1955, portable reel-to-reel recorders, such as the Ampex, reproduced a sound as good as the products of recording studios.

The Phantom Museum can be found here, and the vintage reel-to-reel, radios and recorders catalogs and adverts here.

Bonus images from the Reel-to-Reel catalog after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
UK Police Implementing Spy Drones
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Oh for f’k’s sake… not content with covering the whole country with surveillance cameras, the UK police are now planning on implementing US-style spy drones to catch suspected pedophiles (read: everybody in the country) or something. Drones are planned to be implemented by 2012.

Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the “routine” monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.

The arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which produces a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for war zones, is adapting the military-style planes for a consortium of government agencies led by Kent police.

Documents from the South Coast Partnership, a Home Office-backed project in which Kent police and others are developing a national drone plan with BAE, have been obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.

They reveal the partnership intends to begin using the drones in time for the 2012 Olympics. They also indicate that police claims that the technology will be used for maritime surveillance fall well short of their intended use ?

Posted by Jason Louv | Leave a comment
Kabul’s Big Brotherization

“The suspect is followed from camera to camera, from every angle of view—until they’re identified as a threat or not.”  Spotted over at Wired’s Danger Room, the shape of the Afghanistan to come:

Surveillance cameras have a pretty lousy track record of fighting terrorism and crime, here in the West.  But that hasn?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Spook Country: The Wonder Years
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One night at 3 AM, while contemplating other, possible career options, I found myself on the CIA’s website and noticed they now have a section “just for kids.”

Welcome.  We?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Mexico’s Universities Of Crime
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Current Events


Engrossing article this week by Marc Lacey in The New York Times: Mexico’s Drug Traffickers Continue Trade in Prison.  In it, Lacey describes the nonchalance with which prison guards in Mexico grant “revolving door status” to that nation’s most notorious drug traffickers.  The guard-trafficker relationship has, in fact, grown so cozy of late that prison cells have become de facto bases of operation for the traffickers’ criminal empires.  What were once “Centers for Social Rehabilitation” are now better known as “Universities of Crime.” 

Fortunately, there’s American money on its way to fix things!  As part of its counter-narcotics assistance program, the U.S government is sending Mexico a grand total of…$4.0 million.  Cue this.  In the accompanying surveillance video, watch and see what all that money’s gonna try to fix.

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment