THEY Hear Napoleon Speaking

The early albums of bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones may remind you of days gone by, but other classic sounds from the past are right under our feet: literally. According to a recent study by Starfield Laboratories, the earth accumulates a record of all noises, and they can be unlocked by a stunningly simple process! 

The revelation came out as part of a larger international study of “noise pollution,” a term that refers to the heedless proliferation of environmental noise in ways that damage animal life, sometimes even including humans. “If you wish to determine noise pollution,” said Pol De Smet, the Belgian researcher in charge of the study, “you have to establish a baseline, yes? And for this, we placed two thousand solar-powered microphones at locations around the world.”

De Smet did not know exactly what he and his team would learn. “Most of the sound was what you would expect,” he said. “The wet chew noise of worms eating leaves, or the slap of shoe leather on a sidewalk, yes? But each day, at midnight Greenwich Mean Time, for one minute, we heard what at first sounded like incomprehensible static.”

De Smet was intrigued by the static, so he turned to his lead analysts, twins named Rolf and Axel Goossens. “They are almost seven feet tall each,” De Smet said. “The Big Geese, we call them, yes?”

Rolf and Axel Gooseens


The Goossens twins spent days in the lab clarifying and sharpening the minute-long static bursts, and what they heard shocked them. “These locations were all broadcasting the past. For one minute a day, it was as if they were playing a minute from every preceding year, all at once. It was like a symphony of all that had ever been, yes?” 

De Smet did not believe the Goossenses at first, so they isolated one microphone that had been placed at Gad’s Hill School in Higham, Kent, England. “We hear at first the normal noises,” De Smet said. “Children running around, using the profanities, teachers giving lessons, even a furtive romantic assignation by two staff members, yes? But in that minute burst, we hear construction work where there is no construction work. We hear Dixon of Dock Green, a British television show that has not been aired for years. We hear talk of the Great War. I had intrigue, yes?” 


The Goossens twins then played De Smet the capper: the last words of Charles Dickens, who had admired the house as a child, purchased it as a country retreat in 1857 and vacationed there until his death in 1870. “He had suffered a stroke, Dickens,” said De Smet. “His sister-in-law told him to lay down to not have the dizziness, and he said ‘On the ground.’ You can hear those words when the audio is separated out. It is clear to hear, yes?”

Other microphones placed at random locations around the world have turned up audio of Napoleon near Grenoble in 1815,  Sid Caesar performing in 1949 in the International Theater at Columbus Circle, and pavement 176,500 years ago in the Tarn et Garonne region of southwestern France. “Caesar had this show called Saturday Night Review before Your Show of Shows,” De Smet said. “It was a two-part show, two hours, the first broadcast from Chicago and hosted by Jack Carter. It was produced by Pat Weaver, later the president of NBC, the father of the actress Sigourney Weaver. The skit we picked up was a German professor who was teaching a guy to sleep. Of course, other people are more interested in the cavemen, but to me, it just sounds to be grunting and shouting, yes?”


Shortly after making the discovery, De Smet and his team also realized that the process of hearing the past could be achieved without sophisticated technology. “We have our solar microphones, very expensive, the price each of a small auto,” he said. “But the Big Geese wondered if those equipments were necessary.” 

Further experiments revealed that they were not. The same tapestry of past sounds could be uncovered by bending down and put an ear to the ground. Different thicknesses, shapes, and angles of wax paper—a single sheet, a double sheet, a folded single sheet rolled slightly, a folded double sheet held at a forty-five-degree angle—efficiently filtered the sounds and allowed the researchers to isolate specific years. “A single sheet angled up twenty degrees lets you hear yesterday,” De Smet said. “A trifold with corners turned up subtracts two hundred and ten years.”

The lab is still figuring out exactly how to apply its momentous new discovery. “Last night we had a long conversation about it,” De Smet said. “I don’t remember exactly the ideas, yes? But I have a sheet of wax paper, and I will angle it ten degrees tonight.”

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