UCSB digitised 10,000 old wax cylinder recordings and has put them all online. Since they’re all public domain, which is awesome, the opportunities to play around with and even insert into recordings is essentially unlimited.
BoingBoing has an article up which describes how they still have 2,000 in their collection to record. You can help by “adopting” a cylinder. Or, you can just go straight to the online archive. Some of them are just bizarre.
The craziest and best thing about these – conceptually, anyway – is that they were all recorded mechanically. Electric recording didn’t exist yet, so microphones what even are those? No, these were recorded using giant funnels aimed at the performer, who performed as loudly as they reasonably could – at which they had practice, performing in unamplified halls – and a needle etched the grooves directly into the cylinders.
And with the earliest cylinders, those would be the ones sold. They’d do however many at a time they could manage to fit into a room, so you’d get maybe 40 recorded at once, then perform again. Some cylinders kept being recorded that way for years – Edison’s Concert series in particular.
Very quickly, they moved to recording a master that they’d then physically replicate, either using copying or casting techniques – copying yielding awfully poor results, casting techniques doing far better. But either way, cylinder recordings are basically fossilised sound waves, and that is pretty much just deeply awesome.
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