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burdt on 05/04/2011 at 09:00AM

Amateur Cylinder Recordings

Edison Brown Wax Blanks

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.

cylinder, ucsb, digitization, cpdp


katya-oddio on 05/04/11 at 08:26PM
What an interesting glimpse into the past! For years, I would pick up the laminated metal disks and old acetates from homes and small studios in NY in hopes of finding recordings like these. I had very little luck, as most were amateur musicians performing on the piano, violin, or harp. Cassette culture proved to be far more informal, just as with these recycled cylinders. Lots of fascinating -- and truly bizarre -- experimentation to be found there. Thank you for sharing your finds!
katya-oddio on 05/04/11 at 08:29PM
[By the way, thank you, UCSB Library, for housing my 4x-great-grandfather's war diaries!]
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