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ARSCLIST  September 2008

ARSCLIST September 2008

Subject:

Article on UCSB Cylinder Restoration Project

From:

Matt Sohn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 10 Sep 2008 06:30:31 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (239 lines)

From today's Wall Street Journal:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122100522362717305.html


> Wax in My Ears: An Online Journey
> By BARRYMORE LAURENCE SCHERER
> September 10, 2008; Page D11
>
> Back when I was an adolescent collector of antique
> phonograph records with
> limited pocket capital, my quarry was the black shellac
> 78. The immediate
> ancestors of vinyl LPs, these 78 rpm records were playable
> on the 1918
> spring-wound, French-polished mahogany Victrola I had
> bought for eight
> bucks at a local antique shop. Conveniently, they were
> also playable on
> any modern turntable equipped with a 78 rpm setting. There
> was, however,
> another recording format that I ignored -- wax cylinders.
> These were
> mainly produced by the company owned by the phonograph's
> inventor, Thomas
> Edison. Not only were cylinders extremely fragile and hard
> to store, but
> they could be played only on antique cylinder phonographs,
> an investment I
> could ill afford. But now, thanks to the Internet, I have
> been able to
> supplement my shellac collection while discovering the
> extraordinary
> pleasure of cylinders. And, as I can preview and download
> my finds on my
> computer, no antique equipment or new shelf space is
> required. The
> material is usually free for personal use, though you
> should check each
> Web site for usage-rights information.
>
> Because historic records of classical repertoire are amply
> represented on
> CD, my chief crop as a Web harvester of virtual wax and
> shellac is the
> repertoire of late-19th and early 20th-century popular
> music -- vaudeville
> routines, minstrel shows, ragtime, dance and salon music,
> all of it
> exploited by Edison and other record companies. Among the
> Web sites that
> feature digital transcriptions of old recordings, one of
> my favorites is
> Turtle's Jukebox (http://turtleservices.com/jukebox.htm1)
> with a small but
> slowly growing archive of Victor, Columbia and Edison
> records made before
> 1930. Also interesting are the historic recordings section
> of the Internet
> Archive (www.archive.org/details/78rpm2) and the Edison
> Historic site at
> Menlo Park (http://www.nps.gov/archive/ edis/edisonia
> /sounds.html3).
>
> However, for its scholarly attention to detail, high audio
> standards, ease
> of navigation and sheer abundance of delightful material,
> my favorite
> haunt is the Cylinder Restoration Project at the
> University of California,
> Santa Barbara's Todd Library
> (http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu4). Its
> vast archive of 7,500 cylinders dates from the 1890s
> through the 1920s.
> Many are in the public domain, and most are downloadable
> in MP3 format and
> 24-bit WAV, as well as streaming audio. David Seubert, the
> library's
> curator of performing arts, says that "being able to take
> material
> inaccessible to the general public -- much of it for over
> a century -- and
> make a large amount of it available for free is immensely
> gratifying."
>
> Launched in 2002 and funded in part by a $205,000 National
> Leadership
> Grant awarded in 2003, the CRP has been transferring its
> cylinders using a
> French-made Archeophone together with digital audio
> editing software.
> According to Mr. Seubert, "the Archeophone is a universal
> cylinder player
> employing electrical reproduction and modern styli (such
> as Stanton or
> Shure cartridges) to play back any of the varieties of
> cylinders made by
> Edison, Indestructible and other firms. Unlike antique
> equipment, it
> allows minute control over the playback speed and a much
> higher quality of
> reproduction."
>
> Though Edison has always been credited with inventing the
> phonograph, he
> based his first cylinder on a French invention, Lčon
> Scott's
> Phonautograph, developed between 1853 and 1860. Scott's
> mechanism was
> simplicity itself: A recording horn funneled vocal sound
> waves to a
> diaphragm (think of a kazoo) connected to a vibrating
> bristle stylus,
> which left the visible pattern of the sound waves along
> the surface of a
> revolving paper cylinder coated with lampblack. But
> "Phonautograms"
> couldn't be played back.
>
> Edison improved on Scott's idea. Instead of paper, he used
> tin-foil --
> along which the stylus made a groove. And it was on this
> still fragile
> medium that Edison made his very first sound recording in
> 1877 -- "Mary
> had a little lamb." Playback reversed the process and
> produced the sound.
> Edison initially regarded his invention purely as a
> dictation machine, and
> in the 1880s his agents were recording the voices of
> celebrities from Lord
> Tennyson to Florence Nightingale on wax cylinders -- more
> practical than
> tinfoil. One recording, from 1888, preserves the prophetic
> voice of the
> English composer Arthur Sullivan (W.S. Gilbert's musical
> partner) saluting
> Edison with the observation that "I am . . . astonished at
> the wonderful
> power you have developed, and terrified at the thought
> that so much
> hideous and bad music may be put on record forever. . . ."
>
> By 1900, recorded speech was yielding to recorded music,
> especially opera.
> But by 1905 cylinders were losing their market share to
> disc records,
> invented by Emile Berliner in 1887. Though discs became
> the industry
> standard, Edison continued to produce cylinders through
> 1929 (in a more
> durable celluloid plastic he called Blue Amberol).
>
> Though there is some fascinating opera and concert music
> among the CRP's
> cylinders, the bulk of the repertoire is popular,
> featuring gifted
> performers who were household names in their day. Billy
> Murray, Henry
> Burr, the tenor Walter Van Brunt and the Scottish comedian
> Sir Harry
> Lauder were already familiar to me through their
> recordings for Victor and
> Columbia. But the Web site's archives introduced me to
> several artists,
> most notably the delectable comedic songstress Ada Jones
> and her frequent
> recording partner Len Spencer, a versatile character actor
> with an
> exceptionally malleable baritone speaking voice.
>
> In routines like "The Crushed Tragedian," "Hezekiah
> Hopkins Comes to Town"
> and "Becky and Izzy," Jones and Spencer exploit
> crystalline diction and
> consummate gifts for accents, dialects and vivid
> characterization that
> reflect the American "melting pot" at the beginning of the
> 20th century.
> Many of these accents -- especially upper crust and Bowery
> New York, Down
> East, Southern minstrel, Yiddish, German, Italian and
> Irish -- represented
> a then-living variegated ethnic tradition that stretched
> back to before
> the Civil War. Even Standard American speech, as spoken
> and sung here, has
> an elegant, almost patrician crispness that has passed
> from the scene.
>
> Musically, the cylinder repertoire of humorous songs,
> romantic ballads,
> vocal quartets and dialect routines vividly preserves the
> alternatingly
> sentimental and upbeat tastes of the era between the
> presidencies of
> Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson. There's also an
> invaluable
> representation of genuine Americana. "If you want to know
> how hymns were
> sung 100 years ago," Mr. Seubert says, "or how country
> music was sung and
> played, these cylinders preserve authentic performances."
>
> Among the most compelling recordings in the archive is a
> group of
> cylinders made by the composer Victor Herbert (1859-1924)
> with his
> orchestra. He was widely popular as a symphonic conductor
> as well as for
> such hit operettas as "Naughty Marietta." His recordings
> of concert works
> like Brahms's Sixth Hungarian Dance and Mendelssohn's "Ruy
> Blas" overture
> document the expressive late-19th-century performance
> style, with its
> flexible tempos (rubato) and emotional string portamento
> (sliding between
> important notes). Of course, Herbert's recordings of his
> own compositions
> represent definitive interpretations -- the 1909 "Rose of
> the World" from
> "The Rose of Algeria" is especially touching, with a
> golden cornet
> substituting for a romantic tenor. Surprisingly, the
> recorded sound of
> Herbert's cylinders is often so good that you can hear the
> delicate
> subtleties of his instrumentation and also the eloquent
> precision of an
> ensemble well-drilled by a beloved chief who knew exactly
> how he wanted
> his music to go.
>
> Mr. Scherer writes about music and the arts for the
> Journal. His current
> book is "A History of American Classical Music"
> (Sourcebooks).
>

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