Sound was first recorded and reproduced by Thomas Edison in 1877. Until about 1950, when magnetic tape use became common, most recordings were made on mechanical media such as wax, foil, shellac, lacquer, and plastic. Some of these older recordings contain material of great historical interest, but may be in obsolete formats, and are damaged, decaying, or are now considered too delicate to play. Unlike print and latent image scanning, the playback of mechanical sound carriers has been inherently invasive. Recently, techniques, based upon non-contact optical metrology and data analysis, have been applied to create and analyze high resolution digital images, and to restore the audio content, of these materials.
This lecture will discuss the characteristics of early sound recordings and the use of this new technology as applied to a number of notable collections: field recordings of Native Americans and Canadians from the early 20th Century, the experimental sound recordings of Alexander Graham Bell, from the 1880’s, and ethnographic recordings collected by Milman Parry in Yugoslavia in 1930, which led to the oral-formulaic theory of epic poetry.
The technology and restoration of historic audio recordings will be illustrated with sounds and images. Additional information can be found at http://irene.lbl.gov