Mystery recordings to be heard for first time in 100 years
By T.K. Randall
April 8, 2022 · 3 comments
A selection of wax cylinders. Image Credit: PD - Daderot
Many fragile 19th-Century wax cylinders contain audio recordings that have, until now, been impossible to listen to.
What's the most old-fashioned method of recording audio that you can think of... cassette tape ? LP ?
Long before either of these things there was the wax cylinder - the world's first mass-produced audio recording medium. Consisting of a hollow tube with the audio recording engraved on the outer surface, these remarkably primitive objects could be played back using a mechanical cylinder phonograph.
While wax cylinders offer up a valuable window into the past, the problem today is that they are incredibly fragile and most of them would disintegrate if anyone tried to play them back.
Now though, a new device known as the Endpoint Cylinder and Dictabelt Machine is about to change all that by providing a way to scan and play back wax cylinders without damaging them.
It is likely to take a couple of years to digitize all the cylinders kept at the New York Public Library, but eventually it will make it possible to once again listen to recordings that nobody has heard in over 100 years.
Some of the cylinders are believed to contain unique recordings of operas, stage shows and other events of which there are few other examples.
There are also a significant number of cylinders that have long remained a complete mystery.
Music librarian Bob Kosovsky has described some of the cylinders as "the first extensive live recordings in recorded history."
"And that gives us a sort of a keyhole into what things were like then," he said.
"Not necessarily to do it that way today, but just to know what options are available and how singers and performers and audiences conceived of these things, which is so different from our own conception. It's a way of opening our minds to hear what other possibilities exist."
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Audio, Wax Cylinders
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