And then they fell silent, victims of technology’s unceasing march toward a smaller, sleeker and less annoying ideal. Dial-up modems were supplanted by WiFi. Floppy disks begat CD-ROMs, which begat USB flash drives. Tamagotchi, the digital pet, wore out his welcome and was stashed in the back of a dresser drawer, never to hatch again.
Now these random bleeps and bloops have found a long-term home at the Museum of Endangered Sounds, a Web site dedicated to archiving and preserving the noises emitted by yesterday’s gadgetry.
The front page hosts more than a dozen thumbnail images — the exhibits, if you will — which, when clicked, trigger a familiar noise. So by tapping on the picture of a portable CD player, a visitor can re-experience the whir of the CD player’s optical lens sliding back into its starting position. So far, the collection is fairly meager, just 18 items, which range from the commonplace (television static) to the arcane (background music from the CD-ROM encyclopedia “Encarta 97").
The site’s founder, Brendan Chilcutt, promises that there’s more to come. In a photograph, he is seen wearing oversize glasses and glancing over his shoulder while typing code into a desktop computer. The museum’s mission statement, which he penned, is rife with purple prose pertaining to VCRs, cathode ray tube televisions and the Windows 95 startup chime. “Where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that,” he writes. “And tell me: Who will play my Game Boy when I’m gone?”
As it turns out, he was never even here. Brendan Chilcutt is a fabrication, a nerd mascot dreamed up by the site’s flesh-and-blood creators, Marybeth Ledesma, Phil Hadad and Greg Elwood, all advertising students in their mid-20s who met while they were attending Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter (they have all since graduated).
The museum began as a spoof, a just-for-fun extracurricular project born out of a late-night snack run. “We were all in a car going out to eat, and Marybeth was on her BlackBerry texting and our other friend was texting on his iPhone,” explains Hadad, 28. “You couldn’t hear him, because iPhones are silent, but we heard the clicking on her BlackBerry. And we started thinking, ‘Are gadgets getting quieter?’ ”
Together, the trio brainstormed a handful of their most beloved beeps and squeals and designed a Flash-driven Web site that paired the sounds with quirky animations. They recruited a friend to pose as Chilcutt, lifting his oversized glasses and dopey facial expression from artist Chuck Close’s photo-realist painting “Mark,” the closest thing there is to an iconic nerd portrait.