Description of the following video:
[Words appear: Wax Cylinder Recordings: Preservation and Discovery through Digitization]
[Words appear: Indiana University’s Archives of Traditional Music is home to nearly 7,000 wax cylinders recorded in the field.]
[Words appear: A modern playback machine created by Nick Bergh is used to digitize these cylinders.]
[Words appear: Melissa Widzinsky, audio preservation engineer, Media Digitization Preservation Initiative]
Melissa speaks: Cylinder recordings were invented in the late 1800s and popular through the 1930s. We have about 7,000 sealed cylinders and each one of them is unique because they were cut in the field for each individual recording.
This is actually the second largest field cylinder recording collection in the United States, after the Library of Congress.
[Words appear: Dan Figurelli, audio preservation engineer, Media Digitization Preservation Initiative]
Dan speaks: Ethnographers would go out into the field and they knew that these languages were becoming endangered. So they would want to go out and preserve these languages as well as their stories and their music and things like that. A lot of these formats are very difficult to play back so we have specialized gear that’s designed to play them back as accurately as possible.
Melissa speaks: The cylinder machine that we have here at IU is unique—it is the first its kind actually out in production.
Dan speaks: It has a laser that will measure the distance between itself and the cylinder. So a cylinder, when it spins, it’s not perfectly centered. So it has a wobble to it. What that laser does, it gives us a measurement to basically make up for that sort of wobble. When we play it back we get a nice smooth surface to play on.
Melissa speaks: It is a lot more precise than other types of machines where you might be adjusting by eye or not at all.
Dan speaks: We’ll get a cylinder, then, first we assess whether it can be played. We put it on the machine and we use the laser to make measurements to make sure that it’s perfectly centered. We have a good idea of what is in these collections but we don’t know exactly what’s in these collections yet. There could be languages, there could be songs, there could be significant things that have been overlooked—maybe never even heard from since they were recorded. It’s really a special thing to be able to hear these things and then also make them accessible to everyone else.
[Words appear: Audio sample from a cylinder in the Laufer Collection featuring a Chinese shadow play of lute and voice, 1901 to 1902]
[MUSIC AND SINGING]
[Words appear: provided with permission from the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History]
[Words appear: Special thanks to]
[Video: National Endowment for the Humanities logo appears]
[Words appear: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this video do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities]
[Words appear: UITS: University Information Technology Services, Copyright 2017, The Trustees of Indiana University]
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
As video and audio technologies evolve, older formats such as VHS tapes or audio cassettes often lie gathering dust in boxes or in dark attic corners. But where a family might have a handful of home movies, Indiana University has more than 635,000 audio, video, and film recordings.
Through the IU Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative (MDPI), IU aims to preserve this extensive collection of rare and often irreplaceable recordings. The most critical components of the collection are slated for digitization and will be made available by IU’s bicentennial in 2020.
Learn about MDPI