The largest online collection of historic sound recordings, UCSB's Cylinder Preservation & Digitization Project, is a new Curator on the Free Music Archive sharing Creative Commons selections from their ~10,000 recordings. Today's feature is by Berto Solis, the UCSB digitization lab's team leader:
Brown wax cylinders, the primary medium for commercial recordings between 1895 and 1901, were in circulation much longer as wax “blanks”—to be recorded on and "shaved" (erasing the old grooves) and recorded on again.
The following is a selection from our minor collection of these. Each recording is a small wonder, for it is highly doubtful that their creators would ever have imagined that they would be heard so many years later.
A boy recites a psalm in the sober, headlong fashion of a child. How old is he? Men sing to the tune of “John Brown’s Body.” Have they had too much to drink? The vocal duet of Suwanee River—is that a husband and wife, brother and sister, friends? And then there are the animal noises--is that a real cat or someone imitating a cat? We hope it is the latter...
These few minutes of sound give us an aural snapshot of the lives of people from a previously silent era. This glimpse into the quiet past has its complications though. Since amateur recording practices weren't standardized at this time, level discrepancies, speed fluctuations, and unintended noise were recurring issues that we have to deal with while preserving and digitizing these cylinders today. In spite of these engineering problems, the essence of the past remains. It is this, more than anything, that keeps us listening. [Berto Solis @ Free Music Archive]
A couple weeks back, Berto Solis and David Seubert called in to my WFMU program to talk about the Cylinder Preservation & Digitization Project and DJ some selections -- download the podcast here and check out CPDP on the FMA and at cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/