The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Ferdinand presents … Answering Machine Day

An Answering machine is a device which is connected to a landline telephone, and records messages on to physical recording equipment unlike today’s Voicemail which is connected to a centralized digital network system where all users connect to a central server to replay messages.

Valdemar Poulsen from Denmark patented what he called a Telegraphone in 1898. The telegraphone was the first practical apparatus for magnetic sound recording and reproduction. It was an ingenious apparatus for recording telephone conversations. It recorded, on a wire, the varying magnetic fields produced by a sound. The magnetized wire could then be used to play back the sound.

Several European companies in the 1920s attempted to market improved wire recorders for dictating and telephone recording purposes. These were the first magnetic recorders to use the new technology of electronics. Using the vacuum-tube electronic amplifiers that became available after World War I, these recorders could capture weak telephone signals and reproduce them with greater volume than was possible with the Telegraphone. Examples of these European machines included the Textophone and the Dailygraph.

The Textophone was placed on the market in 1933, about the time Hitler came to power. The Nazis needed all the recording equipment they could get, and the Gestapo bought huge numbers of Textophones for the German government. The market was not entirely a domestic one, however, for they were sold all over Europe, several hundred installations having been made in Switzerland alone.

In 1949 the first commercially successful answering machine was the Electronic Secretary created by inventor Joseph Zimmerman and businessman George W. Danner, who founded Electronic Secretary Industries in Wisconsin. The Electronic Secretary used the then state-of-the-art technology of a 45 rpm record player for announcements and a wire recorder for message capture and playback.

The year 1960 marked a significant turn of events with the launch of the first commercially successful answering machine known as the Ansafone. A compact and sophisticated device, the Ansafone was invented by Dr. Kazuo Hashimoto who worked for a company known as Phonetel. The distribution rights for this machine were later handed over to Dictaphone Corp.

Many such similar models were launched in the market following the success of the Ansafone. In the year 1962, a New York based company known as Robosonics Inc. introduced an inexpensive answering machine known as the Robosonic Secretary. Next to hit the market was a device called the Record-O-Phone.

AT&T executives feared that users might cut back on telephone use if recording devices were widely adopted. The company sought to block the introduction of answering machines even while their engineers made significant technical advances in magnetic recording technology.They finally released the Record-O-Phone after three decades in 1963.

By the 1970’s answering machines became more convenient to use and less expensive owing to the advent of cheap microelectronics. A cheap and handy answering machine known as the PhoneMate was devised in the year 1971 specially to meet the needs of home consumers. It was a technically slick model for its times, weighing around ten pounds with a capacity to hold twenty messages on tape .It made message retrieval possible with the means of an earphone. The mid 1970’s witnessed a further drop in the prices of answering machines with the cheapest models being priced at as low as $125. With the prices hitting an all-time low, the market bloated with demand for answering machines and it became a common household commodity. The sales figures reached a whopping 400,000 units by the end of 1978.The popularity of answering machines continued to grow leaps and bounds and the sales had almost doubled within the next four years.

However, as is the case with almost all technological inventions, the answering machine too had to eventually make way for finer developments. With the emergence of cell phones and their in-built Voicemail feature, the use of answering machines started declining gradually. Also, many telephone service providers offered centralized and inexpensive voice-mail as a standard feature in home telephone lines, hence rendering the answering machine obsolete.Voicemail revolutionized the face of digital sound recording, replacing the answering machine completely.


Ansafone made in the 1960’s:


Phonemate 400 1970’s:


Code a phone 1980’s:


Thrift store bought answering messages:


Dan’s answering machine circa 1995:


Warhol star Jackie Curtis answering message:


Courtney Love answering message to Kim Shattuck:


Kurt Cobain’s threatening messages to young journalist:


Jeff Buckley’s messages to his photographer:


Frans celebrity voice mail:


Bjork “Im in N.Y”


Alec Baldwin crazy message to 12 year old daughter:


Ryan Adams’ message to music critic:


Charlie Sheens’ angry messages:


Homer Simpson gets a voice prompt:


Songs feauturing answering machines:

Junior – If Maddona calls


Paul Evans – This is Joanie


Pulp – Ansamachine


Rupert Holmes – Answering Machine


No Doubt – Spiderwebs


Dandy Warhols – Messages


Laptop – End Credits


The Replacements – Answering Machine


Sonic Youth -Providence




p.s. Hey. This weekend d.l. and writer and much more Ferdinand is providing you with the most golden possible opportunity to lock your brainwaves into the dying if not lost art of the answering machine. He and I ask you to give some of your next two days over to giving this marvel of technology past a proper cerebral funeral. Game? In any case, please show Ferdinand you cared in whatever way you do by leaving him some comments this weekend, thank you. And, obviously, big thanks to you, F! ** David Ehrenstein, I never met GK, but you can just tell even from afar what a swell guy he was. ** Steve Erickson, Indeed, he so does, on the comprehensive DVD/Blu front. I’ll read your new review, thanks. Everyone, Mr. Erickson’s new review is of the Israeli film FOXTROT, and why don’t you head over there. And, oh wait, that’s not all. He has also reviewed none other than the new Steven Soderbergh film UNSANE, but, before you read it, he has a little warning aka ‘[It] includes spoilers. Given that I don’t think the film really comes into its own till its final third, it was impossible to write a review without giving away certain elements of the plot. If that bothers you, you’ve been warned and should wait to read this till you’ve seen the film.’ Okay, made up your mind? If the answer is ‘go for it’, go here ** Sypha, Ah, lucky you! ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. First of all, huge sigh of relief on the great outcome of LPS’s hearing. Fucking praying, as it were, that he knows what a lucky guy he is and will toe the lines, of course in his inimitable sort-of-toeing-just-enough style, from here on. Great, George! i think you know that ‘Jerk’ made Bjork burst into tears and have some kind of temporary nervous breakdown. 5 or 6 inches constitutes a snowpocalypse by Paris standards. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick! Yes, I got your email. I’ve just been swamped, but I’ll get back to you today or tomorrow at the latest. Thank you so much! ** Jamie, Hey, J! You back from that place they call Dublin? Did you defy the odds and come home fit as a fiddle? (What a strange saying.) Thank you a ton and a half for the email/post. I wrote to you with the coordinates over the weekend. You had ‘Supermarket Sweep’? It was a trip while tripping, I do remember that. Thanks. The film meeting was good. We’re in a lullish, in-between phase re: festival deadlines/decisions and won’t have much concrete news until April or May, but there was some good news I can’t reveal yet. The overall sort of take-away from the sales agents is that — and this is not a surprise — film festival programmers right now, and distributors too to some degree, are mostly looking for films with ‘woke’ content that address issues of diversity, gender, politics, etc., i.e. trendy stuff, and our film, which is not about that stuff and is instead, according to the agents, more in the ‘auteurist cinema’ realm, is a bit of a lone wolf by default. Which is not to say there isn’t interest in it and some great seeming possibilities, but its uniqueness, which you would think would be its lure and strength, is not proving to be the help it should be. Still, things look potentially good, although we’ll have to hope the film winds up in the queues of some daring, open-minded deciders. My weekend: lots of work. Going to see a music gig on Sunday, part of the Presences Electronique Festival currently going on here. And yours? May it look like an avalanche but be a hologram. Seitan stroganoff love, Dennis. ** Count Reeshard, Hi, Count! Always a great treat and pleasure to have you here. Your wife and daughter are in Kuchar films? That’s completely amazing! Wow. I’ve been wanting to rewatch ‘The Devil’s Cleavage’, and I’ll find that last film — could it be called ‘The Fury of Frau Frankenstein’? That’s the only title I found that’s kind of close. So great that you had experiences with him. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I hope everything is wonderful with you. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. His films are a ton of fun. I think you’ll enjoy them. The DCA’s future is really cooking. I really like Eve Fowler’s hustler photos, and of course I would so love to see Mike’s Mobile Homestead. That’s some stellar stuff right there. ** JM, Hi, man. So it is now closed. Are you fully satisfied, I sure hope? Shareable stories, news, etc.?  You’re a Vincent Gallo fan. Not me. I can’t stand him, but I think I get it. Energetic and frenetic? Mm, I’ll have to give that some thought. Must be a bunch of qualifiers. Let me think. Lately -> me is basically work, work, work and a little bit of fun too. Doable, productive, exhausting, but good. What’s now for you? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Ah, hormonal. Urgh. Has it abandoned you entirely? Yes, I love, love your piece on X-R-A-Y! And I was so happy to see you there! X-R-A-Y along with SCAB are my favourite new journals. Congratulations! Everyone, the singular writer, SCAB mastermind, and all around human Dóra Grőber has a short work of fiction newly available for reading on the awesome lit. site X-R-A-Y, which is co-edited by the similarly amazing writer, editor, d.l., and person Chris Dankland. All of which is to say give yourselves a big reward by clicking this and reading Dóra’s fantastic piece! So cool! I’m going to wait until Monday to make sure the contract signing ceremony next Thursday isn’t cancelled or something, and, if not, I’ll lift that project’s silly veil. The film meeting went interestingly. I laid it out to Jamie up above if you’re curious. Otherwise, yeah, work and more work. It’s going okay. Have the very best weekend and let me know what happened. ** Keaton, You’re here! Hit me up with your coordinates. Let’s hang! Welcome to the … jungle? ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh. Oh, nice, cool that you’ve gotten into Branca. ** Right. Now employ your local weekend in the good graces of Ferdinand’s construction and let him know you were here. Thanks! See you on Monday.


  1. Lets! I’m just behind the two pillars at Nation. I’m free anytime just chillin. let me know and I’ll be there. went to the hunting museum today and wow is that a cool one. also went to the cesar exhibit. been lost in the marais for 2 days lol. the concept of blocks does not work there lol. ok I have this theory French boy legs are 17th century light lol. HMU talk soon

  2. Ah, I always liked that Sonic Youth song “Providence,” good stuff.

    Dennis, the Neo-Decadence Day is nearing its conclusion: we’ve set April 1st as the deadline for the book’s contributors to submit material. We were hoping that maybe it could premiere on the blog the weekend of April 28-29th (the book’s official release date is April 30th)… what do you think about this? If so, what would be the best date to get the Day to you by?

  3. Ferdinand, Ha! This is great. We never had a proper answering machine before the advent of voicemail. My parents saw no need for it. “They’ll call back.” One of the great things about living in these days is seeing things advance so fast -some would say too fast, but who cares?- getting to live through all of it. Soon, we’ll probably all have chips in our heads, connected directly to our brains, that’ll be our answering machines. 😛

    Big D, Yes, thank you. Wow, it really surprised me. Like I’ve said, I too hope that he realizes what a gift he’s been given and takes advantage of it. I so hope he doesn’t have some sort of OJ/Zimmerman syndrome where he thinks he’s untouchable and will never have any consequences. Though the alternative school is a consequence, but he likes it, so it’s not really that big of one, you know.

    Speaking of schools, he takes French. The alternative school doesn’t offer that, so the counselor there advised us to contact his regular school to get the French work. He said that the regular school will grade it and put it on hold for when he comes back. He said this is common and happens all the time. Well, the regular school is giving me shit about it now. The French teacher said she couldn’t do it. I emailed the vice principal on Monday and haven’t received a reply. Fuckers. Now I have to elevate it. I’ll probably send an email to the principal this weekend.

    I knew that Bjork (she was with Matthew Barney, right?) saw “Jerk” then. I think you just missed them, right? I didn’t know that was her reaction, though. I can see it. Yeah, there are a few times when you get a good punch in the gut during “Jerk” as an audience member. The whole thing is very haunting and even claustrophobic at times (good things, by the way).

    That’s one reason why I want LPS to come with me to NYC to see THEM. I think it’d do him good to see some good art. I want him exposed to things like that, get him out of his “Lil Pump” bubble to see all the things out there. Plus, I think it’d be good for him to meet you and some of my other friends who are good people and doing great, exciting work. A little perspective, you know?

  4. hi dennis

    christ my internet is so slow, its like chasing a dutch house boy for hours, mmh, pause to pump..

    ferdinand, thank you for your telephone links, anytime my phone rings i faint

    dennis, i got your bear book, it was odd, some of the essays were really odd to read again, i have your soft skull book, the david wojnarowicz essay is still awesome, as is the john waters

    sorry i wasn’t around last week and i didn’t answer your question

    i was ill and at the doctor, all is good now

    dennis, i just bought an 8″ x 10″ tarkovsksy poster card for mmh, uuugh, its of mirror, of his son, its fucking incredible, but it cost uuuugh, cough, mmmh

    it cost me 40 e’s, am i a greywine some spinster ? an old fairy with too much cash, hahaha

    not that i give a fiddlers fuck

    dennis, have you ever splashed out on ebay for something and then just stared at it for years wondering why ?

    love you dennis, alex,x

  5. I have a landline that should come with a way to set up voice-mail but I’ve repeatedly read the instructions and can’t find any place where it tells users how to. So I only have voice-mail on my cell phone once.

    Something very weird happened on a previous answering machine once. I got a message from my own voice! That really freaked me out. My father was able to come up with a rational explanation for how it could happen, which I’ve long since forgotten, but at the time I felt like I was living in the opening scene of a horror movie.

    • I should have written “I only have voice-mail on my cell phone now.”

      You’ll be glad to know I just ordered the Spirit CD box set. It’s so expensive that Amazon isn’t charging me for postage – although I could guarantee getting it Friday if I paid it $3.98 for shipping – although I still have to pay tax. But the new Procol Harum 6-CD box set, released by the same label, costs almost twice as much through Amazon.

  6. I am indeed fully satisfied. We had one weird performance where the audience either hated it so much or were so engrossed that they literally didn’t clap which is a fine and totally valid response but also pretty gutting as I’m sure you’re aware being onstage. I forget what I said energetic and frenetic about and going back sounds like a lot of scrolling and reading. Is work, work, work not fun for you? Re:working in creative industry stuff, or do you mean more like admin-duty type deal? Now for me is…. empty-ish. I’ll probably be waiting around for a few months doing very little; there are auditions for another Ridley play later this year that I will audition for and hopefully succeed in landing. I’ll re-accelerate on my reading and viewing soon, hopefully, and I have a paper to do on chlorination of water that shouldn’t take too long but also absolutely could take too long if I’m not careful. So there’s that.


  7. sundays in Paris are kind of creepy. I feel like it’s snowed. here’s my email: htimsnotaek@gmail.com

  8. Ooh I can think of a few answerphone tracks. Cheyne – Call Me Mr Telephone is a cover of the Italo original by Answering Service. Also Green Velvet – Answering Machine and my favourite is Lil Louis – I Called U. This Day is a worthy tribute to a dead artform. Smartphones have so little potential for drama, sigh.

  9. Ah, I still have a version of this fine cultural artifact. It’s not as pretty as some of the photos though. I’d love to have one in the wooden casings.

    Good to see Thomas’ Branca day again!

    That Maison de la Radio gig looks awesome, Dennis. Are there actually 5 short sets, or do the musicians play together? Look forward to hearing your report.

    Saw Isle of Dogs last night; very clever and charming.


  10. David Ehrenstein

    March 25, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    Proof that the Parkland kids have won : The NRA is attacking them.

  11. Hi!

    @ Ferdinand: thank you so much for this post! It was super interesting! Courtney Love’s message was something, haha.

    Ah, thank you so much! Both for the very nice words and for the publicity! Thank you, thank you! I’m really glad you liked it and I’m beyond honored to know that SCAB is so close to your heart. Truly, this is the biggest possible compliment it could get.

    I’m really curious about the project now! I keep my fingers so extremely crossed for this deadline!
    Sounds like the film meeting was a bit bittersweet. I personally tend to be pretty bored by movies that are considered “woke” and “trendy” nowadays but I understand this is what most people want to see. Maybe. Still, I very much hope that ‘PGL’ finds its home under the wings of more daring deciders. And of course, I’m very curious about all the good news you can’t reveal just yet! Congratulations on those – even in this blind state!

    Saturday was trans group day for me and once again, I think it went well. I was exhausted by the time I got home but I left with the feeling that everyone got a chance to talk and connect. And today, as almost always, was free-style day so I’m pretty satisfied and inspired right now.
    How was your weekend? What happened?

  12. Was Great fun Dennis, thanks! I enjoyed black acrylic’s addition to the answering machine songs.

  13. Hey Ferdinand – Really enjoyed the answering machine day – especially the collection of songs and messages. Really fun to hear those.

    Hey Dennis – Spent the last few days out of town with family which turned out to be nice. Visited some lemurs and learned about their many wild-eyed varieties, among other things.

    Covers are finally finalized for the A side and B side of my novel and hoping to share those soon.

    You familiar with experimental filmmaker Takashi Ito? Ran across his video ‘Thunder’ which really impressed me and need to dig deeper.

    How’s work coming on the secret project? And I’m looking forward to hearing the previously alluded to good news about PGL when it’s kosher and hope there’s much more to come.

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