IU media historian’s find in stacks at Wells Library could represent oldest record in world

Patrick Feaster

From Indiana University:


Vor seinem Löwengarten
Das Kampfspiel zu erwarten
Saß König Franz
Und um ihn die Großen der Krone
Und rings auf hohem Balkone
Die Damen in schönem Kranz

The voice of the father of the gramophone, Emile Berliner, is only slightly muffled as he recites Friedrich Schiller’s ballad “Der Handschuh.” But his words — preserved as an image in a German magazine from 1890 and resurrected through today’s technology at Indiana University — represent what can be considered the oldest record in the world.

IU sound media historian Patrick Feaster stumbled on the image of Berliner’s recording earlier this year, when he was searching for another article in the more than century old copy of “Über Land und Meer” in the fourth-floor stacks at Bloomington’s Herman B Wells Library.

“I was looking for a picture of the oldest known recording studio, to illustrate a discussion I was giving on my work with Thomas Edison’s recordings. I pulled it off the shelf and, while I had it open, I looked at the index and saw there was an article on the gramophone. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a bonus,'” Feaster said. “So I flipped through and, lo and behold, there’s a paper print of the actual recording.”

Feaster had created sound from such images before, a seemingly impossible task accomplished by scanning the record-shaped image, unwinding — or “de-spiraling” — it and linking the resulting sections to create a linear file that looks much like a modern-day audio clip, then running it through specialized software to create a sound file.

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