Afterdays Media focuses on archaeological views of our contemporary culture. Artifacts, art, or cultural phenomena that picture us in the past tense.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A 125-Year-Old Echo

The posts here have been focused on music lately, so I will continue that theme with the following artifact.
Edison Wax Cylinder

We talk a lot about artifacts – usually those of other, extinct cultures, and less often of those of our own. And of course the latter is the focus of this blog. In both cases, however, we normally encounter physical remains of another time. The sufficiently distant past is usually represented by objects or images.

The Internet Archive contains a number of examples of very early sound recordings. Most of the older examples date to the 1910s or 1920s. One in particular, however, is a rare and haunting example of a true audio relic. In fact, it is one of the oldest known recordings of human voice. In 1888, or just over ten years after Edison introduced his phonograph, an agent for his company attended the Ninth Triennial Handel Festival at Crystal Palace, London. A note on the wax cylinder that he recorded that summer day reads “A chorus of 4000 voices recorded with phonograph over 100 yards away.”

Handel Festival, London, 1888.

Click HERE and listen to the sound from this 125-year old cylinder. The circumstances of its production – a distant recording of so many human voices coupled with the very physical, noisy nature of the wax medium, have resulted in a powerful sonic window into us as ancient. And it is a lovely sound.

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