Old recordings I

March 20, 2006

 Etching from Robert & Celia Dearling's

There are many resources for digitized cylinder discs on websites and blogs. I’ve been listening to many ancient recordings and am happy to pass on to you a few amusing and/or entertaining numbers.

The first is a digitized cylindrical recording made at UC Santa Barbara’s Donald C. Davidson Library. The song is called “Eli Green’s cake walk” and is scored for banjo and piano. Listen to the piano. Granted, recording techniques were not what they used to be, but wow! it sounds like the piano is under water. The style is a tricky one to identify. Seems in the folk vein mostly, but the harmonic turns are classically informed. (Originally issued on Columbia Phonograph Co. between 1904 and 1909.)

Of all organizations, the National Park Service hosts a website devoted to Thomas Edison’s work in the history of recording. Here is “Barbara Allen” sung by Frank Luther and his Pards. [“Pard” is a word my Kentucky grandfather used to use. I never heard anyone else use it; I assumed it means “friend” or partner. ] Notice how every note slides into the next one. Every note has it’s own character; there is no steady state in his voice.

Trevor Hill has a passion for collecting 78’s and cylinders and has an impressive website displaying his collection. You will hear old recordings of presidents, actors, and other famous people from the late 19th century. One of my favorite recordings, which was beautifully restored by sound magician Chris Long, contains a toast by Arthur Sullivan to Thomas Edison upon first hearing the phonograph:

” . . . For myself, I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the results of this evening’s experiment — 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. But all the same, I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery.”

Sir Arthur Sullivan

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