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Illuminating the Early History of Sound Recording, Feb 27

The technology of sound recording was first developed in the late 19th century. During this period a great deal of experimentation was done on recording methods and materials. Much of the evidence these developments has been preserved in a variety of collections. These early recordings are typically found in obsolete formats, and are damaged, decaying, and are generally considered too delicate to play invasively.

Recently, a series of techniques, based upon non-contact optical metrology and image processing, have been applied to create and analyze high resolution digital surface profiles of many of these objects. Numerical methods may be used to emulate the stylus motion through such a profile in order to reconstruct the recorded sound. This approach, and current results, including studies of the earliest known sound recordings, are the focus of this talk, and will be illustrated with sounds and images. Such studies provide a significant window on the process of invention in this important period.


Carl Haber is an experimental physicist. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from Columbia University and is a Senior Scientist in the Physics Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California. His main research focus is in the development of instrumentation and methods for detecting and measuring particles created at high energy colliders, such as the facility at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. Since 2002 he, and his colleagues, have also been involved in aspects of preservation science, applying methods of precision optical metrology and data analysis to early recorded sound restoration. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Free and open to the public, the Research Exchange Seminar Series is a weekly roundtable of presentations and discussions that highlight ways to frame and tackle societal-scale research issues All talks may be viewed post-event on our YouTube channel