Panel's top picks from the 400,000 audio recordings going public domain
January 3, 2022 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Ten (actually, dozens) Of Notable Pre-1923 Recordings selected by members of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections They even picked out separately a few songs and speeches specifically on social issues (mostly women's suffrage, and the war). If you've seen other highlights from this year's awe-inducing audio trove, please post 'em!
posted by johnabbe (13 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Wow - I had no idea there were songs about suffrage ("She's Good Enough to Be Your Baby's Mother (and She's Good Enough to Vote With You)"--Anna Chandler, Columbia A1950, 1916 ).

This is a great list highlighting an amazing trove, and I am really glad to know about it.

Thank you so much for posting this, johnabbe!
posted by kristi at 12:58 PM on January 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

Amazing, thanks!
posted by Rash at 1:31 PM on January 3, 2022

Three cheers for the public domain!
posted by humbug at 2:21 PM on January 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 2:26 PM on January 3, 2022

Extremely my jam. Thanks for pointing this out and I had no idea that this is the first official release in the US of Public Domain audio recordings, that is insane.
posted by q*ben at 2:34 PM on January 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was typing a comment to the effect that it's ridiculous to say that this is the first official release of sound recordings into the public domain, but then I googled it and wow, yeah, it's US copyright law that's ridiculous.
posted by goatdog at 3:06 PM on January 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

Interesting how many of the recordings were Enrico Caruso renditions of "Recitar!... Vesti la giubba."

Early recording technology didn't do much for high women's voices because it didn't capture the high harmonics. As a result, the era of acoustical recording/playback was largely responsible for making tenors the biggest stars among the public, a position formerly occupied by sopranos. This phenomenon continued from Enrico Caruso all the way to Luciano Pavarotti even as recording technology for women's voices improved radically. There were of course huge stars from the other voice types during the 20th century -- Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas come most readily to mind -- but their fame was most strong among the cognoscenti. With the exception of perhaps Beverly Sills, no other voice type achieved the same heights among the general public as did tenors such as Luciano Pavarotti, Franco Corelli, etc.
posted by slkinsey at 3:30 PM on January 3, 2022 [7 favorites]

So fascinating!

Was the surface noise always so present or is that a function of a hundred years of age on the storage medium? I find it so distracting. Listening to Pablo Casals playing Bach in 1915 feels more like I'm listening to noise + some Bach in the background. Is this just how it always was?
posted by getao at 3:47 PM on January 3, 2022

Very characteristic of 78 rpm and wax cylinder playback. The fidelity of 45s and LPs, made of plastic, was a big improvement.
posted by Rash at 4:18 PM on January 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

Caruso was a big deal back then. Some of the engineers who helped develop modern digital audio in the 1970s used old Caruso recordings for some of the first digital re-mastering experiments, which wowed the crowd at the AES Convention.
posted by ovvl at 4:43 PM on January 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm listening to noise + some Bach in the background. Is this just how it always was?

Yeah that's pretty noisy. I speculate that it probably sounded better on the first play, but 1915 is kinda ancient. I've heard some old 78's (some later recordings) on a 1920s-ish mechanical wind-up Victrola gramophone that has an uncanny sound: it's loud! Brassy mid-range that fills the room. Ineffable.
posted by ovvl at 5:24 PM on January 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

NPR has some other selections (including a 3-minute long Moxie jingle!)
posted by dismas at 5:41 PM on January 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

I just have to say, this is a stellar first post and I thank you for it!
posted by evilmomlady at 4:10 AM on January 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

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