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Recording Sound

1932 Theodore Roszak Born: Poznan, Poland 1907 Died: New York, New York 1981 plaster and oil on wood 32 x 48 x 6 3/4 in. (81.3 x 121.9 x 17.1 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase 1989.25 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, North Wing

Gallery Label

Theodore Roszak celebrated the new recording technologies of the 1930s with this light-hearted painted relief. The horn of the phonograph resembles the ear of a listener, who hears the music and imagines the world of the opera, pictured with comical plaster figures on a tiny stage. Even the turntable, with one mechanical device resembling a costumed figure, evokes the stage where the performance occurred. A tiny balloon at the upper right suggests the fantasy and escape that music can provide. Circles and spirals throughout the image evoke the motion of sound waves and the grooves of "sound" cut into the master recording.

Recording Sound is in many ways a self-portrait. Roszak studied music, but chose to pursue a career in art. He was making the transition from painting to sculpture when he created this work, which has elements of both. Roszak imagined himself as a kind of machine that absorbed experiences, recreated them, and transmitted them to others, just as the new recording technology replayed real events for new audiences.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006


Allegory - senses - hearing

Architecture Interior - detail - stairs

Object - furniture - stereo


paint - oil