Die Erfindung des „Carusophons“

07.12.2015

HMV Monarch Gramophone. EMI Archive Trust photo: Hannah Hempstead
HMV Monarch Gramophone. EMI Archive Trust photo: Hannah Hempstead

In der Oper South Pole spielt ein etwas rätselhaftes Gerät eine wichtige Nebenrolle: das sogenannte „Carusophon“. Es verbindet die Musikliebe der britischen Expeditionsteilnehmer mit der überlebenswichtigen Disziplin im Tagesablauf. Im antarktischen Winter braucht man zwingend eine zuverlässige Uhr, um sich zurechtzufinden, weil die Sonne monatelang nicht aufgeht und es Tag und Nacht stockdunkel bleibt. In der Handlung der Oper ist es Edgar Evans, dem beim Transport der einzige Wecker zu Bruch geht und der den höchst originellen Ersatz dafür erfindet: ein Grammophon, das mit Hilfe einer bis zu einer bestimmten Stelle abbrennenden Kerze in Gang gesetzt wird. Dieses „Carusophon“ gab es tatsächlich. Allerdings wurde es von der sogenannten „Northern Party“ eingesetzt, einer Untergruppe von Robert Scotts Expeditionsmannschaft, die einen anderen Bereich erforschten. Auf Kap Adare, einer Halbinsel im äußersten Nordosten von Victoria Land, verbrachten sie fast zwei Jahre unter teilweise desaströsen Bedingungen. Der Geologe dieses Teams, Raymond E. Priestley, berichtet über die Erfindung des „Carusophons“:

A study of the meteorological records of the Southern Cross Expedition had at once shown me that they had kept a night watch going during the winter months of the year, and, in spite of our small party, I was anxious to make our observations tally with theirs as closely as possible. [Group leader Victor] Campbell readily agreed to this suggestion, and on May 16th the night watch was instituted on the anchor-watch system – that is, with each man taking two hours. The first night or two of this passed off all right, but it was soon clear that this arrangement would be a big strain on the party if it were kept up for a couple of months, and Campbell offered a reward to the man who should invent the most serviceable alarum* to take the place of the alarum-clock we had omitted to bring.

The sailor is nothing if not inventive, and the prize was awarded the same day to [Petty Officer Frank] Browning, who claimed that his invention, the “Carusophone,” as it came to be called, was infallible. At one end of a board about 3 feet long he had fixed a rigid upright, and at the other end a piece of bamboo which acted as a movable spring. About halfway between these was a stand, which held a candle, graduated by experiment, and bored with holes through wax and wick at intervals, each of which represented a time-space of two hours. A piece of thread was tied to the fixed upright, and from there passed through the top hole of the candle, and its other end was tied to the bamboo spring, and drawn tight, so that the latter was in a state of considerable tension. Another piece of thread passed from the spring in a direction away from the position it tended to take up when the tension of the first thread would be released, and this was carried to the starting-handle of the gramophone. The gramophone was then wound up to its fullest extent, the needle placed in position at the commencement of a record, and the alarum was ready to work.

A sketch from a logbook from one of Captain Scott's expeditions. Photo: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/
A sketch from a logbook from one of Captain Scott's expeditions. Photo: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/

At midnight the latest member of the party turned in, and before doing so he lighted the candle on the “Carusophone.” This then burnt steadily for two hours while all hands slept the sleep of the just, until at two o’clock the appointed span was completed, and the thread which passed through the wick was burnt through. Then the bamboo spring, released by the breaking of the thread, sprang back, and pulled over the starting-lever of the gramophone. The plate and record then commenced to revolve, increasing in speed little by little to the accompaniment of a noise which bordered on the infernal, and was at first calculated to wake the whole party. In case the watchman should become used to the noise we selected as the record which performed this honourable duty every night the “Flower Song” from Carmen, sung by Signor Caruso, not, I am afraid, because of our classical taste in music, but because it was the loudest we possessed. In consequence the gramophone alarm was christened the “Carusophone,” and its efficacy was such that on one occasion only, when the draught during a blizzard blew out the candle, did it fail to go off, and on no single occasion did it fail to wake the night watchman. Indeed, for the first week or two, judging by the comments it evoked, it woke every one, but even then we were so proud of it that no one said nearly as much as might have been expected, while after a week or two its only effect was to give a somewhat noisy trend to our dreams.

By means of the “Carusophone” the night watch became much less burdensome, and we were able to restrict it almost entirely to those of us who were more particularly interested in the weather. Campbell, [surgeon Murray] Levick, and [Petty Officer George] Abbott volunteered to take it by turns to sit up until midnight, and then the “Carusophone” candle was lit. At 2 a.m. I was turned out by the alarum and took the observations, and I then sat over the fire reading or washing clothes until 4 a.m., when I read the instruments again, set the alarum, moved the trumpet of the gramophone round so that it was directed to its next victim, and then turned in. At 6 a.m. the alarum repeated and called Browning, who by this time had become my regular assistant in this science. He did the six o’clock rounds, entered them up in the log, and then made up the fire. At seven o’clock he called [Able Seaman Harry] Dickason, and the night watch thus had the additional advantage that the breakfast was always up to time because the cook rose punctually at seven o’clock and found the fire in good condition.

* Alarum (from Middle English alarom, from Old Italian all’arme ‎[“to arms, to the weapons”], from Latin arma, armorum ‎[“weapons”] is an old spelling of alarm (as a noun or a verb), which has stayed around as a deliberate archaism. Possibly it is retained because of its use in Shakespeare’s plays. (Quelle: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/alarum)

[Quelle: Raymond E. Priestley, Antarctic Adventure. Scott’s Northern Party (Kapitel “The Freezing of the Sea”), London: Fisher Unwin 1914]

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