I've got moves you haven't even seen yet
July 16, 2007 1:29 AM   Subscribe

What is the relationship between the optical groove in a record or wax cylinder and sound, and how can we use this to recover analog recordings from the past? Dr. Carl Haber explains IRENE (.pdf; begin at slide 44 for audio samples).
posted by Blazecock Pileon (25 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, this seems a rather promising technology. Thanks for the post, Blazecock.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:10 AM on July 16, 2007

Seems like an it would be easier to get one of them old turntables and put the needle in the groove.
posted by Blingo at 3:36 AM on July 16, 2007

Seems like an it would be easier to get one of them old turntables and put the needle in the groove.

No problem doing that, of course. But old, damaged and deteriorated records with lots of surface noise (old 78s, for example) can, in this way, have the music that's locked in their grooves retrieved, with far less of that surface noise. That's my understanding, anyway, as to what this is all about.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:47 AM on July 16, 2007

For a moment I thought this was about that team of Belgian archaeologists who recovered Pompeian voices from the grooves in a vase (video; info).
posted by progosk at 3:54 AM on July 16, 2007

Some code to do this, though probably not nearly as nice.
posted by effugas at 4:09 AM on July 16, 2007

Progosk: that was interesting even if it's not true. If anyone wants to read more about the Pompeian vases, here's the Language log.
posted by Termite at 4:12 AM on July 16, 2007

Progosk: I was so interested in that story you linked to, and I really wanted it to be real, but I don't believe it. For one thing, it's from 2005, and there's nothing available on it in English outside of a few misspelled comments here and there on some blogs. No news stories, nothing from historical or scientific journals... Plus, the guy with the frickin' pipe... that's just overdoing it. That guy's an actor. Here's something on it from Museum of Hoaxes.

Now, about that Trattoria... ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:27 AM on July 16, 2007

I don't know if that particular story is true, but Daedalus (I have to write the FPP on him soon!) predicted recovering voices from pottery like 30 or 40 years ago and had a more recent reference to someone else doing it. So I think it's possible (though ISTR Mythbusters wasn't able to).
posted by DU at 4:34 AM on July 16, 2007

DU I was reminded of Daedalus in New Scientist all those years ago. Always fantastic creative thinking.
posted by Joeforking at 4:56 AM on July 16, 2007

Hee hee... of course it's a poisson d'avril. (Though I admit I fell for it for ten minutes when it first made the rounds, because I so wanted it to be true...)
posted by progosk at 5:08 AM on July 16, 2007

Recovering voices from pottery? that seems incredibly ridiculous to me.

Anyway, another reason you wouldn't want to use a needle and turn table to extract the audio is that it could would cause more damage. And, yeah, if you listen to the clips the audio comes out better, even without noise reduction.
posted by delmoi at 5:10 AM on July 16, 2007

No way is that pottery stuff possible. There's too much damping and variability in the recording arm (literally an arm), too much variability and mush in the medium (wet clay), and then the whole thing is cooked and buried. There's no way you would be able to separate any recorded vibrations from the noise in the system. Someone saw the physical similarity between cutting a record and throwing a pot and ran with it.

And don't even think about believing in the sample they played with actual discernible voices. I know why the recording is full of laughter.
posted by pracowity at 5:47 AM on July 16, 2007

I heard a segment on NPR just this morning about this.
posted by zorro astor at 6:28 AM on July 16, 2007

Oh never mind, I should have clicked the links first.
posted by zorro astor at 6:28 AM on July 16, 2007

A previous post on a related topic.
posted by Rumple at 8:21 AM on July 16, 2007

Page 46 of the .pdf - Studio Test 1947.
Mutt Carey and his New Yorkers: Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble.

Stylus: Yeah! IRENE: Ehhhh....
posted by squalor at 9:09 AM on July 16, 2007

You can try this at home folks.
posted by caddis at 9:41 AM on July 16, 2007

Good post. More info on the LOC blog entry about IRENE.
posted by turtlegirl at 11:55 AM on July 16, 2007


Wow. There is something shockingly earnest about that site.
posted by effugas at 12:01 PM on July 16, 2007

A year or so ago, I went to a presentation about the Library of Congress' National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. One point they made is that most of the focus has been simply on stabilization of the 3D media, since records, cylinders, etc., are physical media that will likely always be readable. Like a book, as long as the disk doesn't actually fall apart, someone, somewhere will be able to figure out how to read it.

Digital media, on the other hand, is much more ephemeral, so real preservation needs to be done now. 2000 years from now, future metafilterians will be able to play a record, but what will they do with a 5 1/4 inch diskette? All of today's (and the recent past's) digital information needs to be put in a format that will not only last through the ages, but will be readable, as well.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:30 PM on July 16, 2007

delmoi writes "Anyway, another reason you wouldn't want to use a needle and turn table to extract the audio is that it could would cause more damage."

You could use one of these.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:10 PM on July 16, 2007

Ah, I see caddis beat me to it. They aren't cheap, but if you love your vinyl enough ...
posted by krinklyfig at 4:11 PM on July 16, 2007

I remember reading, but can't find, a story about an 1860 or so machine that had a rotating drum coated with lamp black and a stylus attached to a (reverse) megaphone. You shouted into it and the vibrations were scratched into the lamp black by a stylus.

There was no way to play it back, but apparently the idea of recording was enough for him to make a living touring with the contraption, and he recorded famous people (including Lincoln).

If any drums were preserved, we dould in theory hear Lincoln's voice.

Does anyone else remember this?
posted by KRS at 12:18 PM on July 17, 2007

RCA was experimenting with using light to reproduce recordings just as WW2 began, in its "Magic Brain" Victrola radio/phonograph series (about which little is available online).

Considering the accuracy of laser-ranging these days (Earth's diameter to within a few millimeters), that seems the obvious technology to recover endangered recordings -- or for other audio archeology projects. Mightn't be hard to cobble up a DIY project from a laser diode & photosensor.

The problem with listening to pottery: no doubt you could "hear voices" -- like the "women's chorus" that accompanies Springer's article -- that are simply "playback" artifacts. But, who knows?

posted by Twang at 3:45 PM on July 17, 2007

Laser ranging tech could work, but I would prefer holography as it can store more information. Whatever, we need to move beyond the limitations of our current digital technology. There are too many artifacts created in the music in the transitions between the analog and digital worlds. Vinyl records still best CDs and perhaps even Super Audio CDs with quality equipment. Vinyl records are horribly inconvenient though. I would like some format that is analog, compact and sturdy enough for a three year old to operate without compromising the sound integrity. It seems pretty clear that most of the digital sources we are creating these days will not be readable a hundred or more years from now and much of today's culture may simply be lost. Hopefully, the sheer volume of what is produced will help ensure that some of it survives.
posted by caddis at 5:04 PM on July 17, 2007

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