Old Medium, New Message

October 27, 2009

wax-cylinder

The enormous discography of the tenor Robert White has gone out into the world (starting when he was the child star Little Bobby White) in 78 rpm, 45 rpm, LP 33 1/3 rpm, cassette, CD, and mp3. Last month, the singer had the extraordinary opportunity to record on the wax of a 1909 Edison cylinder recorder. In that early process, the sound is captured, with no electricity at all, by purely mechanical means. The recorder’s motor is powered by a wind-up spring mechanism, just as when Mr. White’s father, who preceded him in radio and recording stardom as “The Silver-Masked Tenor,” made his first recordings in 1915. Even though the electrical microphone changed the process of sound recording quite drastically in 1924, this audio file makes it clear that the old method was remarkably effective, too:

Since George W. Meyer’s song “Brown Eyes, Why Are You Blue?” was written just as electrical recording was being introduced, this may be its first outing on wax. The new performance was recorded with Vince Giordano and his orchestra (“The Night Hawks”) before a live audience direct to the cylinder. The engineer, Peter Dilg of the Baldwin Antique Center, is a specialist in historic recording devices. Thus, in Robert White (whose birthday is today), the Juilliard faculty now can boast an Amberol Cylinder Recording Artist.

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