In an awesome case of 1890s cutting-edge tech meeting modern technology, sound historian (yes…that’s a job) at Indiana University, Patrick Feaster, has done something amazingly nerdy and fantastic.
While looking for an illustration of the world’s oldest recording studio for a talk he was giving on Thomas Edison’s recordings, Feaster pulled a book for research. Upon glancing at the index, he noticed there was an article on the gramophone. When he turned to the article? A paper print of the actual recording.
In February of this year, Feaster had done something amazing with these old paper prints of the recordings…
He played them back.
By scanning these paper copies Feaster is able to unwind or ‘de-spiral’ the line that the needle would follow on the physical record. Remarkably these unwound spirals look a lot like a modern audio file. Using special software, Feaster is able to then play back the audio captured from a flat photo.
Feaster had already done this twice with two other recordings. What makes this recording interesting is that it predate his other finds.
“In that recording, Berliner tells us he’s making a record for Rosenthal to experiment with,” Feaster says. “He shares that they’re in this particular building in Hanover, and then he recites some poetry, sings a song and counts to 20 in several languages.”
According to Feaster and his colleagues what he accidentally stumbled across was the earliest known gramophone recording ever made…printed out on paper…and played back 122 years later.