I Can Hear You

From This Might Be A Wiki

song name I Can Hear You
artist They Might Be Giants
releases Factory Showroom, Dial-A-Song: 20 Years Of They Might Be Giants, John Henry + Factory Showroom
year 1996
first played February 2, 1997 (16 known performances)
run time 1:57
sung by John Flansburgh


This track was recorded at the Edison Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey on an Edison wax cylinder recorder. We performed this and other songs in front of a small audience, singing and playing acoustic instruments as loud as we could into a pair of enormous metal cones, the larger of which was perhaps twelve feet long, which fed the sound into a hundred year old non-electrical recording device created by Thomas Edison in the 1890s. The wax cylinder recorder carves a groove into a rotating tube of softened wax with a needle that is vibrating from the sound pressure collected at the small end of the cone. That is the best we can explain it. It looked very cool.
[The wax cylinder] was really a big leap forwards in terms of what technology was bringing people. And the topic of the song is basically a kind of tribute to all the different ways that speakers intrude on our lives. It talks about car alarms that talk at you and intercoms and phones on airplanes and all these different ways that little squeaky, noise-making devices are in our lives, and the device it's recorded on is the original thing that did that. So, it's kind of a tribute to the wax cylinder recorder itself. And it was written for the demonstration. [...] It was a real interesting experience, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing to be sitting there with a hundred people at the Edison Museum singing into this giant cone and singing this crazy song, it was really fun. It was something I'll never forget, and it made for a really interesting recording, and after we did it we just thought "Hey we could put this on a record", and it's not that far field. The engineers kind of looked at us funny when we got to that track when we were mastering the record.
  • According to an article in 1996, the wax cylinder recording method was inspired by Chris Butler of The Waitresses, who worked the drum machine on the Wiggle Diskette.[1]
  • Two alternate takes of this song have been played on radio shows - one in a 1996 WFMU interview with John Linnell, and another in an NPR interview with Flansburgh. The most notable difference in these takes is Flansburgh (and possibly Linnell) singing along with the tuba melody at the end. These recordings have not been officially released.
  • The band rerecorded this song, using the wax cylinder recorder, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart's "Greatest Millennium" special on December 15, 1999.
  • This is the only wax cylinder recording ever released on a studio album. In 2020, Flansburgh acknowledged he didn't know what happened to the actual wax cylinder masters that contained this song.[2]
  • The line "The car is protected by Viper" refers to a type of car alarm produced by Directed Electronics.

Song Themes

Food, Hearing, Onomatopoeia, Questions, Self-Reference, Size, Spoken Word, Telecommunication, Trade Names, Transportation, Wax Cylinder Recordings


Current Rating

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I Can Hear You is currently ranked #541 out of 1010. (101 wikians have given it an average rating of 8.18)