Thanks to UCSB’s recent effort to expand its online database, music and history buffs around the world are now free to download over 5,500 historical audio files recorded between 1894 and 1923.
The audio archive, which features a wide variety of musical and spoken selections including ragtime, jazz and famous speeches, is part of an extension of Davidson Library’s online directory that was first created in November 2005, Project Director David Seubert said. Users can stream or download any of the files onto a home computer for free from www.cylinders.library.ucsb.edu.
All of the files in the database are digitized versions of recordings made on “audio cylinders” – an early form of sound recording about the size of a soda can with grooves around the side that would spin on its long axis when played on a phonograph. Noah Pollaczek, an audio technician, said he transferred the data from the cylinders to a computer using a machine called an archeophone. He said the process is challenging because some of the material is over 100 years old.
“I clean [the audio files] up by removing their snap, crackle and pop as best as possible, creating MP3 and QuickTime files for each original cylinder, and finally placing all of them on the websites,” Pollaczek said.
Seubert said nearly 7,000 cylinders are currently stored in the preservation lab of the Davidson Library – the third largest collection of such recordings in the country.
“Whether or not you’re a music student, the website provides a unique history of context to the time period,” Seubert said. “You can go to the site and look for some of the earliest jazz recordings.”
The website, which has seen over 800,000 hits and 200,000 downloads since November, provides a search engine for users to find audio files from various artists, composers and genres, Seubert said.
The historic recordings provide a unique perspective on the popular culture and important issues of a given time period, Seubert said.
“If you go back and listen to a song called “Come Josephine in My Flying Machine,” from 100 years ago, airplanes were brand new, and the fact that they show up in popular song … you can see how the times have changed,” Seubert said. “You can hear songs about automobiles and airplanes and see how people reacted to technology back then, as well as social changes and racial changes.”
The audio cylinder database has garnered favorable reviews from the press, Seubert said.
“Slate magazine … in a year-end wrap-up of things that happened in 2005, said that [the database was] one of 2005’s most notable cultural happenings,” Seubert said.
Pollaczek said the site will continue to add recordings from the Davidson Library’s collection of cylinders in the future, including a selection of songs from World War I.