By Jacob Smith
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53 Emile Berliner’s first gramophone discs were composed of hard rubber, but his employee Fred Gaisberg made sample records from shellac after he learned that the Newark Durminoid Company was making buttons with the material. 56 In 1906 the newly launched trade journal Talking Machine World claimed that more than six thousand of the thirteen thousand tons of shellac that had been exported from India the previous year had come to the United States—a significant increase from previous years and one due directly to the manufacture of records.
50 We will return to the environmental costs of plastic at the end of the chapter, but Barthes’s discussion of plastic prompts us to return to Latour’s suggestion that a network is less a thing than the recorded movement of a thing. Lac insects were part of an energy cycle in which sunlight was translated into tree sap, and tree sap into resin. Human actants continued that process of translation, transforming brood lac to stick lac, then to seed lac, then to shellac. In these regions of the Green Disc topography, what circulates is a form of matter that “remembers” its previous existence as energy by maintaining the plasticity of that earlier state.
Spring-wound, acoustic playback was one of the first aspects of the Green Disc network to disappear, since electric motors were sold as attachments to phonograph players in the early 1920s. 95 Electric motors were marketed to consumers as a modern convenience that reduced physical exertion. 96 A few years later an ad for the Roberts Electric Phonograph Motor Company shows a woman and three children all comfortably seated on a sofa and chairs, listening to the phonograph. ”97 Though undoubtedly convenient, electrical playback meant that record listeners no longer participated in the energy costs of phonographic playback through their muscle power.