Analysis by Nic Halverson on Discovery.com
Congratulations if your vintage vinyl collection boasts a rare first-pressing of¬†Captain¬†Beefheart’s ‘Safe As Milk‘ (mine does!)
However, no¬†one’s¬†vinyl collection is more vintage than the crate diggers at my alma mater,¬†Indiana University.
Earlier this year, Patrick Feaster, a sound media historian at¬†IU, stumbled across an image of a recording by Emile Berliner, father of the gramophone.¬†Feaster¬†found the image in a German magazine¬†from 1890 while searching for a different article at the¬†Herman B. Wells Library¬†in Bloomington.
“I looked at the index and saw there was an article on the gramophone. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a bonus,’ ”¬†Feaster¬†said in an¬†IU¬†press release. “So I flipped through and, lo and behold, there’s a paper print of the actual recording.”
The print was of a recording of Berliner reciting Friedrich Schiller’s ‘Der¬†Handschuh’.
But how does one create an audio file from an image of a record?
Feaster employed a method he’s used before. First, he scanned the record-shaped image and unwound or “de-spiraled” the sound data. Next, he linked the sections together and ran them through specialized software to createa linear file similar to contemporary audio files.
Feaster¬†has used his¬†‘scan¬†and de-spiral’¬†technique three times before his current discovery. One of his previous resurrections was an 1889 recording of Berliner demonstrating his recording process to LouisRosenthal, a man conducting photographic duplication experiments at the time.
Feaster¬†said the text and technical features of his latest discovery led him to believe the print just might be the oldest¬†gramophone¬†audio on record.
“After weighing the evidence, my colleague and I conclude Berliner must have demonstrated the recording process forRosenthal¬†and then sent him home with the record they’d made together, plus a few others Berliner had prepared previously,”¬†Feaster¬†said. “If we‚Äôre right, the¬†‘DerHandschuh’¬†recording must be the older of the two recordings, making it the oldest gramophone recording available anywhere for listening today — the earliest audible progenitor of the world’s vintage vinyl.”
Until we all get our hands on Berliner’s recording, how about we take “Safe As Milk’s” lead-off track, ‘Sure ‘Nuff ‘N Yes I Do‘¬†for a spin, shall we?