Here’s an extract from a wonderful tongue-in-cheek review of the Gennett sound-effects records, which we found among Bill Bryant’s papers. Unfortunately it’s just a clipping, with a note that it was “from The New Yorker, c. 1940,” and those are all the details we have at the moment. Harry Gennett kept his legendary label afloat into the early 1940s with these records, which were popular with radio stations. The catalog at one time listed 375 releases, and there are still a lot of them around.
“CRASHES AND SCREAMS”
“Anybody who wants to drop around to my apartment with a wheelbarrow some evening can have all my phonograph records… From now on there’s going to be no room in my record library for anything but Gennett Electrical Transcription Effects…
“I was won over to sound effects when I read in the Gennett catalogue about their record No. 1205, which is listed under ‘Crashes.’ (The catalog listings are alphabetical, I might explain, running in thirty fascinating pages the gamut from ‘Adding Machines’ to ‘Wolves Howling.’ ‘All from life,” the catalogue remarks with justifiable pride. One side of 1205 is tersely described as ‘Crashes and Screams,’ a full minute and a half of them. The other side is a ‘Heavy Vibration,’ said by Gennett to be‘suitable for earthquakes, battle scenes, falling buildings, general destruction.’ It would be well worth two dollars, don’t you agree, to have the sound of crashes, screams and general destruction at one’s finger tips?…
“Gennett’s chef d’oeuvre, however, is 1099A, demurely catalogued as ‘Man walking on gravel road, wearing squeaky shoes and corduroy trousers. Incidental bird calls.’ Baroque, certainly, but I love it.
“The possessor of a complete set of Gennett Effects can say goodbye to dull evenings. You are sitting at home, let us imagine, alone and in the dumps. You conjure up a little gaiety with 1002B (‘Several Men Laughing’), and add a bacchanalian touch with 1096A (‘Putting Ice into Glass and Filling with Liquid’). Then you fall to cards (‘Shuffling and Dealing Cards, or Rolling Dice’ — 1092A). It is a stormy night outside (1070B, ‘Rainfall and Thunder’). Suddenly a shot rings out (1007A: ‘Gun Shots’), and a woman screams (1003B). The police arrive in a squad car (1008B: ‘Six-Cylinder Automobile Running at Even Speed’) with the siren on (ll03A). They knock at the door (1133A: ‘Knocking and Pounding on Door’); then, failing to gain admittance, they chop it down (1092B: ‘Chopping Down Door’) and drag you off through a rapidly gathering crowd (1109A: ‘Crowd Yelling’). You can now go quietly to bed, satisfied that the neighbors are envying your thrill-packed life.
“One Effect should be saved for moments of suicidal despair. This is 1095B, which, you can believe it or not, is a recording from life of the noise a man makes breaking up a piano with an ax. If that doesn’t bring about a complete catharsis, nothing will.”
Victor and others also offered their own sound-effects lines, although none were as extensive or occasionally bizarre as Gennett’s. Details of the Victor issues can be found in John Bolig’s new Victor Special Labels, 1928–1941, just released by Mainspring Press.