Bell Labs Soundsheet Foretells the Future
By Jonathan Poet
We've covered Flexi-Discs and Soundsheets before — those ultra-thin, essentially disposable records that were widely used as promotional materials in the vinyl era.
This one is a product of Bell Labs, but its raison d'etre is lost on me. It seems it might have been some sort of sales tool.
One side, labeled only as "Early Hi-Fi," contains samples of a symphony recording. I suspect it's of the Philadelphia Orchestra from the 1930s and probably is on here because the music was recorded with Bell technology. (A little Googling turned up people selling such recordings on LP.)
The other is a dry, detailed and somewhat amusing explanation of Bell Labs' then-new "1A Voice Storage System" — or, as humans call it, voicemail. On this track, called "Talking to Machines," the narrator explains how voicemail is going to improve the world by letting people leave messages for each other — even when the other person is on the phone! — without having to buy new equipment. (Sample important message indicating how voicemail will change your life: "John, this is Cathy. I want to let you know that our part of the project is finished but you know we can't go ahead without your report. I need to know when we can expect it. Thanks John.")
Based on back issues of Bell Labs' in-house academic journal that I found online, it looks to me like this particular voicemail system dates to the early 1980s.
Aside from the real-life examples of voicemail in action, there's minimal technical explanation. But the highlight is the way it ends, as you can hear in this sample.