Voices from the past
July 26, 2004 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Getting back into the groove : In the corner of a California university laboratory, two men are battling against time to perfect a machine that will read old recordings - using special microscopes to scan the grooves - and software that can convert those shapes into sound. Their work could bring history to life.
posted by starscream (15 comments total)
that's amazing (and i hope it's posted online when they succeed)...i wonder if there really is a Lincoln cylinder somewhere?
posted by amberglow at 7:06 PM on July 26, 2004

The British Library Sound Archive currently lets you listen to, among other people, Florence Nightingale (from 1890); the Tennyson recording is here (very, very scratchy).
posted by thomas j wise at 8:13 PM on July 26, 2004

incredibly cool!
slightly related previous discussion on similar science
posted by Peter H at 8:15 PM on July 26, 2004

Is there anything out there like thomas j wise's linked site with lots of old, free sound files that are in MP3 format? I can't listen to Real files.
posted by interrobang at 8:21 PM on July 26, 2004

maybe the library of congress has some?
posted by amberglow at 8:25 PM on July 26, 2004

Xlnt post, starscream, thanks!
posted by Lynsey at 1:33 AM on July 27, 2004

This site has a lot of info and recordings from the cylinder era. Nothing like the pop hits of 1903 to liven up the day!
posted by zaelic at 1:52 AM on July 27, 2004

[This is GREAT]
posted by Irontom at 5:28 AM on July 27, 2004

thanks, starscream
great stuff
posted by ubersturm at 7:38 AM on July 27, 2004

Fascinating story. This is more than a novelty. If these folks succeed it gives the lie to the concept that all recording technologies are flawed because their players will eventually stop being available and/or will deteriorate past usability. If we can use the latest technology to leapfrog several layers back to recapture something that was thought unplayable, why wouldn't we be even better at doing so in the future?
posted by soyjoy at 7:43 AM on July 27, 2004

If we can use the latest technology to leapfrog several layers back to recapture something that was thought unplayable, why wouldn't we be even better at doing so in the future?

I think the lesson to be learned here is only of technology-dependance, rather than simply using the current technology to further store this information. Who knows if all of that information will be obliterated in a couple of seconds after the EMPs start taking out the population centers, eh?

IMHO, the answer is diversification. We can start with electronic storage, and make sure it's spread out as much as possible (thereby decreasing the threat that the storage "containers" will be breached), and then eventually get to the point where we're doing something like rearranging atomic valences in a huge block of iron (with redundancies to compensate for stellar emissions, of course). *smile*
posted by thanotopsis at 9:25 AM on July 27, 2004

NPR had a segment on these two guys last month. They play some examples, but the improvements may not be too noticeable on the Real stream.
posted by gluechunk at 9:46 AM on July 27, 2004

The Berkeley guys are apparently producing high-quality renditions of old recordings, without causing any damage to the medium. That's the cool part, not so much that they are getting sound at all--that part's easy.

I've actually been to a talk about this at the Library of Congress. From what the guy here said, getting sound out of older media isn't the problem, usually, since they use physical means to record data. I, myself, have used a pin and a paper cup to play old vinyl records (when I was a kid--it was a KISS album, I think).

It's the newer electronic media that are the worry, since they rely on very specific types of players and programming and are on very delicate media. As long as the old records and cylinders are stored properly (and that's not trivial), there's no worry about being able to access them one day.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:28 AM on July 27, 2004

But can you hook two of them up to a crossfader and rock a house party to the breaka breaka dawn?
posted by cpfeifer at 12:04 PM on July 27, 2004

Not right now.
posted by kindall at 6:48 PM on July 27, 2004

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