A university is digitizing thousands of wax cylinder records

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Mariella Moon
November 10th, 2015
In this article: music, recording, waxcylinder
A university is digitizing thousands of wax cylinder records

The University of California, Santa Barbara has an alternative for those whose unusual musical needs can't be fulfilled by Spotify and similar services. Its library has been digitizing cylinder recordings of 19th to 20th century music, and so far, the official UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive website already has 10,000 tracks you can stream. The library's latest addition to that pile is comprised of 150 two- to four-minute recordings of Everlasting celluloid cylinders. The cylinder format, which looks like an empty toilet paper roll, is a type of recording medium before the more familiar phonograph record overtook it in popularity.

In the 1880's, Thomas Edison developed all-wax versions (see image above) that could play whatever was etched on their surfaces for around a dozen times before they became unplayable. Later on in early 1900's, more durable ones made of celluloid and other materials were developed to compete with the disc format. The UCSB team is working to digitize all types and has around 3,000 pieces waiting to be processed. If you want to help out so you can listen to more pre-World War I music, you can contribute to the team's budget and "adopt" a cylinder for $60.

[Image credit: benjamin.ks.chan/Flickr]

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