June 28 2011: Heart Sounds (Scientific Recordings by Leo Pharmaceutical Laboratories, 1960s)

The use of vinyl records as an advertising medium produced some of the most intriguing recorded material of the 1960s and 70s (as well as some of the worst) but in guises like Heart Sounds, an EP packaged like a valentine’s card but containing scientific recordings of a variety of abnormal heart conditions, as heard via contact microphones, with their various features described by a narrator, we’re firmly in territory where the commercial overlaps with the avant garde, experimental and electronic: in one sense, this is a musique concrete recording, even if its intentions lie elsewhere.

It’s a curiously hypnotic experience, with a strange poetry of its own as the voice-over neutrally intones mysteriously evocative phrases like: “Mitral stenosis, recorded at the apex of the heart” and “Aortic stenosis, recorded in the second intercostal space…”. This sense of an otherworldly aural location is reinforced by the echo created by the body itself, the background of respiration to the arrythmic or stressed heart patterns we hear, generating a sensation like being deep underwater or adrift somewhere outside our own solar system. The two sides of the recording can be heard here (Part One) and here (Part Two).

The purpose of the record was, of course, as a marketing tool: in this case, for the hypertension drugs Centyl and Reserpine, as made by Leo Pharmaceuticals. The stamp on the reverse side of the sleeve shows this particular copy was the property of a British military doctor, though the exact date is unknown: the EP was most probably produced in the mid-1960s, but could have been made a few years earlier or later. The weight of the solid vinyl disc shows that its manufacture pre-dates the oil crises of the early 70s, at least, though beyond that it’s difficult to be certain.

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