It was some years ago that I started using this alarm clock, a Braun 3867/AB314 vm as a teaching aid in my lectures that drew on Freud’s notion of the uncanny. The “vm” stands for “voice memo”. I must’ve learned about it sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s in a Japanese magazine called relax that covered things like the works of Charles and Ray Eames and featured the works of people like Futura, Mark Gonzales, and Geoff McFetridge; very Alleged Gallery/Beautiful Losers on its covers. I don’t know if Dieter Rams designed this particular model, but it certainly bears his imprint: primary colors green, red, and yellow are used on the identically-sized round buttons, volume dial, and the second hand; otherwise, it’s black and white. All of the text—“record”, “repeat”—is laid out in lowercase Akzidenz-Grotesk. It seemed very handsome to me.
I had asked a girlfriend to let me record her voice to use as an alarm. Decades will pass. My son, five or six, is looking through a box of stuff I’d been moving with for years. The box looks like it’s been punched in the gut. He finds the Braun 3867 and asks me about it. I tell him that I think it’s broken, hoping he’d let it go, but he now has my wife involved, and she finds some fresh batteries for it. They play around with the three buttons and volume dial. The ghostly voice of a former lover, long repressed, returns, traversing what feels like many years, apartments, and even lives ago, momentarily interrupting the one I was in. “Who is that?” they ask. “I don’t know,” I insist, flustered, “I think it’s broken. Just put it away.”
Taro Nettleton is a visual culture critic based in Tokyo. He is the Associate Professor of Art History at Temple University, Japan.