Theory and Practice

Ye Olde Multimedia

We were down at the recycling center yesterday, dropping off the compost, and K went over to check out the book exchange. She found a groovy old National Geographic birding title for me, Water, Prey, and Game Birds of North America. Printed in 1965, this edition covers waders, various raptors, and cute little guys like ptarmigans and quail.

But perhaps the coolest thing about the books was the insert I found in a sleeve at the back: Bird Sounds of Marsh Upland and Shore.

What’s really cool about this is that it’s a multipage album containing recordings made by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology over a 30 year period. And it’s one of the coolest pieces of “old” multimedia I’ve seen in a while. And there’s some great information design and typography!

Introduction and instructions

Between each of the pages is a clear plastic disk containing the recorded birdsong. You fold over the book and place the whole thing on a turntable. The pages contain illustrations of the birds featured in the lead track of each album side, and a positioning guide to help you find a particular track on the album. Simply brilliant.

Showing the pages and embedded album

One of the albums showing the track guides

Another aspect of this booklet that I really enjoy is the type design. When I showed a couple of pictures of this to my co-worker Eliot, he remarked on how ragged the type is. And he’s right: there’s no real attempt to force the type into justification. And to me, that just makes it even more beautiful and reveals the hand the unknown designer.

Of course, in the digital age, something like this is completely obsolete. But it’s hard not to love the feel of the pebbled paper and marvel at the ingenuity that went into making this booklet. I think this is a real treasure.

Now all I need is a turntable so I can actually listen to the tracks.