We’ve been able to capture music for later enjoyment for almost 150 years–but in the case of really old recordings, we’ve been doing a lousy job of preserving these things.
This isn’t entirely our fault. Edison cylinder were very fragile–and besides, who has a machine that can actually play these things anymore? Edison phonograph discs required a special Edison turntable–and they haven’t made any of those since the 1920s. There are millions of 8-track tapes still out there but virtually no one has a player hooked up. Hell, I’d have to do some foraging in the basement to find something that could play a cassette. Or any kind of VCR tape.
So how do you digitize a recording when the required playback equipment no longer exists? You call IRENE, that’s how. From The Atlantic:
IRENE [Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etcetera]lives in the cool basement of the library’s James Madison building. It looks, well, like a machine—all metal and lasers and motor—a little bit like a cross between a microscope and the guts of a home printer. How IRENE works: It’s basically a digital-imaging device. So, say you have a vinyl record you want to preserve. IRENE scans the topography of the disc, and sends the images it produces to a computer. Separate software on the computer then converts those images into sound. […] The device knows how to image the architecture of other recorded formats, too, including older shellac-coated vinyl, and glass records like the ones made during the rationing of World War II. In the ten years since IRENE was invented, institutions have discovered a spate of esoteric formats and unknown recordings, strange items in long-forgotten collections that haven’t even been catalogued.
This is cool. Keep reading.