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Historical Recordings, From the Past into the Future

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What a treat – I was able to listen to an historic 1912 recording of the violinist Fritz Kreisler playing his Schön Rosmarin – and I ventured no farther than my computer.  Amidst the crackle and hiss of the old recording, Kreisler’s rich sound came through, and gave me the experience I was looking for – hearing, and not just reading about, that famous tone quality.   As a violinist, I’m tempted to go on about Fritz Kreisler (I will just mention that the Library owns his fabulous Guarneri violin!).   But the point here is this – it was possible for me to easily access this piece of recorded history through the Library’s new National Jukebox.

As it says on the Jukebox website, “Imagine your computer as a new Gramophone purchased for family and friends to enjoy in your home parlor.”

Jukebox interface

The result is access to digitized historic treasures such as the Kreisler, and over 10,000 other recordings (all acoustical pre-1926 era Victor 78rpm discs) of band music, opera arias, dance music, monologues, and musical theater. Included on the site are some pre-selected playlists to get you started – check out the “Gems from the Jukebox”  which includes a comedy dialog with orchestra called “Chimmie and Maggie at the Hippodrome” from 1905, and “Flirting Whistler”, a charming one-step performed by Conway’s Band in 1915 (which was so catchy it stayed in my head all afternoon).

And of course, there is a reason we are presenting this on the digital preservation blog.  The stated mission of NDIIPP “is to develop a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content.”  The overall, 30,000-foot view of digital preservation always includes “access” – once you preserve something, it’s crucial to be able to find it and use it as it was intended.   So preservation and access work hand in hand.

The recordings available through the Jukebox are from the Library’s collection at the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives.  A brief background on the Jukebox process – the curators and technicians select the recordings, choose the particular copy in the best condition for digitization, create unique filenames, and clean and otherwise prepare the discs for digitization.  Audio files are then created to international standard 24 bit/ 96 KHz Broadcast Wave format, then an access copy in Broadcast Wave format is produced from the master mono file at 16 bit/44.1 KHz resolution. The master audio files are then transferred to the servers on Capitol Hill. (There is a thorough explanation of the “Making of the National Jukebox” provided here )

From the Jukebox collection of Victor Advertisements (Saturday Evening Post. April 13, 1912)

According to Gene DeAnna, Head of Recorded Sound at the Library of Congress, the Jukebox is creating a new listening audience for these recordings – an audience which is now no longer limited by time and place.  He says “being able to direct casual or recreational listeners to such a large corpus of audio that is readily available on the internet has been a boon. And because the descriptive metadata on the site is so rich, the retrieval capabilities surpass even what our digital playback system in the (Recorded Sound) Reading Room can do.  So we can now support the kind of comparative critical listening that is often so useful to serious musical study.”

DeAnna also makes the case here for digital preservation, when he says “more and more, with the cost and inconvenience of travel, content that isn’t on the internet is content that is over-looked by users.  I hope and believe the National Jukebox has opened the door for a greater presence of historical sound recordings on public websites.”   Apparently, that door is opening ever wider as, to date, there have been over three million web “hits” to the Jukebox. And over the next year the plan is to add even more content, with several thousand more recordings in the pipeline, as well as a new partnership to be announced soon.

Here at The Signal we are always happy to talk about the latest cool thing.  Access to these once hidden treasures of recorded sound is now much easier, thanks to the National Jukebox.

Oh, and one more thing.  Through the Jukebox, you can hear recordings of the great violinist Maud Powell, including her c. 1907 performance of “The Bee”.  Definitely worth a listen.


Comments (2)

  1. Thanks for letting me know about this. I’ll definitely check it out!

  2. Congratulations from Catalao.Obrigado.

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