Sometimes older really is better.
Or at least the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) seems to believe so, recording new songs for Australian artists using wax cylinders – a technology introduced by Thomas Edison in the 1890s.
The Basics, Keith Potger of The Seekers and Indigenous duo Stiff Gins each recorded a song in the NFSA studio using the classical technology. Their songs – I Don't Need Another, Guardian Angel Guiding Light and Dust, respectively – are all available for free download via the NFSA's SoundCloud channel.
The Basics, whose drummer and vocalist Wally De Backer is renowned as Gotye, have been busy recording their forthcoming album The Age of Entitlement in the historic Abbey Road Studio in London, where the Beatles recorded their eponymous 1969 album.
Bassist and vocalist Kris Schroeder said although that experience saw them walking in the footsteps of The Beatles, "this wax cylinder recording is an incredible jump back to the beginning of modern musical history".
Wax cylinders, typically 11 centimetres in length and five in diameter, were launched alongside the first commercially available phonographs – machines that both record and reproduce music.
Making a recording requires the performer to sing or play into a phonograph's metal horn. The sounds pass through a small mica disc, which vibrates to direct a thin glass rod to cut grooves into a wax cylinder, thereby producing the recording.
Wax cylinders were superseded in the 1920s by flat disc records, which were easier to manufacture and could hold two songs.
NFSA curator of sound Thorsten Kaeding said although they don't emit the highest quality sound compared with modern devices, the value of the project was to engage with creators by making old technology relevant.
"The biggest kick [the artists] get out of the whole process is feeling tied in to those cultural figures that came before them and feeling part of that whole long process of recording music for people to listen to," he said.
The project, which began in 2013 when the Stiff Gins approached the NFSA after hearing a wax cylinder recording of Indigenous elder Fanny Cochrane Smith, has expanded and will continue to record artists' songs.
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