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Finding Lost Recording From the 1880s 128

An anonymous reader writes "The NY Times recently ran a story on the discovery of a cache of wax cylinder records, recorded in Europe in the 1880s, of Otto von Bismarck, Helmuth von Moltke, and various musicians. 'In June 1889, Edison sent Wangemann to Europe, initially to ensure that the phonograph at the Paris World’s Fair remained in working order. After Paris, Wangemann toured his native Germany, recording musical artists and often visiting the homes of prominent members of society who were fascinated with the talking machine. Until now, the only available recording from Wangemann’s European trip has been a well-known and well-worn cylinder of Brahms playing an excerpt from his first Hungarian Dance. That recording is so damaged "that many listeners can scarcely discern the sound of a piano, which has in turn tarnished the reputations of both Wangemann and the Edison phonograph of the late 1880s," Dr. Feaster said. "These newly unearthed examples vindicate both."'"
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Finding Lost Recording From the 1880s

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:30AM (#38933007)
    Quick! Adopt the BCTEA! 2012-1880+50 = 182 years of protection! What if everyone is going to copy this wax cylinder?!!
    • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @04:10AM (#38933143) Journal

      Nobody knows Bismark anymore.

      And it can't sound totally ridiculous, like "The Mickey Mouse Copyright Extension Act" [which is what the last one was, but was named the Sonny Bono act to be slightly less ridiculous].

      This time, it'll be something like "The Lady Gaga Copyright Enhancement Act" [using the work enhancement so any attempt to send an email concerning it will automatically be flagged as spam].

      And copyright will be extended to 50 years after every copy of the IP ceases to exist in any form, including thoughts and memories.

      • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @04:16AM (#38933161) Journal

        Nobody knows Bismark anymore.

        But at least in Germany, about everyone has heard of Bismarck.

        • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @05:44AM (#38933395) Journal

          I would dare say that anyone who can be considered to have even passing knowledge of Western history would know who Bismarck is, and why he is famous.

        • Here in the UK, the ship is better known than it's namesake. Probably because we are still rather proud of blowing it up.
          • Here in the UK, the ship is better known than it's namesake. Probably because we are still rather proud of blowing it up.

            I tought you sunk it.

          • I have bad news for you: it was scuttled. The armour was too strong for the Royal Navy. So you disabled the Bismark, yes, but she had to sink herself.

            • The ship was on fire, listing heavily, and took on so much water the stern was lower than the bow. True, the ship was scuttled... but if it hadn't been, it would have sunk. Even if it stayed afloat in that shape, the next torpedo would have done it, or the one after. Bismark was in no shape to fight back - steam catapult out of operation, engines dead, all four main gun batteries dead. Sitting duck. That ship was going down, one way or another.
              • by Nimey ( 114278 )

                No, it would have stayed afloat until the RN captured her, hence the scuttling.

                • by DrXym ( 126579 )
                  That's a fairly unlikely scenario. The Bismarck had 2000 crew. It would have been lunacy for the RN to attempt to board it short of surrender and there was absolutely no chance of that. The Brits would have simply pounded shells and torpedoes into it until it sank.
                  • by Nimey ( 114278 )

                    The German crew knew their position was untenable - they could stay and get the shit pounded out of them without being able to maneuver or fire back, slowly getting killed, or they could abandon ship. Naval honor dictated scuttling their ship before abandoning so the enemy couldn't have her.

                    As it happened the RN left the area because they believed U-boats were on the way and they didn't want their nice battleships and cruisers getting torpedoed.

        • by JustOK ( 667959 )

          Why? Do they have alot of relatives in North Dakota?

        • "Is a bismawck a hewwing?" Lilly Von Schtupp
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by vleo ( 7933 )

        "Nobody knows Bismark anymore." - too bad for the US then... In Russia everybody knows him for this saying:

        "Do not expect that once taken advantage of Russia's weakness, you will receive dividends forever. Russian always come for their money. And when they come - do not rely on the Jesuit agreement you signed, you are supposed to justify. They are not worth the paper it is written. Therefore, with the Russian cost or fair play or no play. "

        So... what about that NATO expansion in Europe? What about ridiculou

        • In America, he's more famous for saying, "Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made."

          Though he probably never said it.

          • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Sunday February 05, 2012 @07:43AM (#38933829)

            Oddly enough, he's less famous for some things about politics he did actually say, which are widely used, but less widely remembered as originating with Bismarck:

            "Politics is not an exact science."

            "Politics is the art of the possible."

            He's also the source of the prediction: "If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans."

          • In America, he's more famous for saying, "Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made." Though he probably never said it.

            He might have said it. A search on German Google finds a lot of hits attributed to him (and not Saxe) for variations on "The less the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep."

            Je weniger die Leute wissen, wie Würste und Gesetze gemacht werden, desto besser schlafen sie.

    • Dont worry (Score:4, Funny)

      by jopsen ( 885607 ) <> on Sunday February 05, 2012 @07:11AM (#38933717) Homepage
      Every digital recording of the wax cylinder is probably copyrighted from date of the digital recording :)
    • Remember how they wanted to pull stuff OUT of Public Domain?

      We can't have anything German! It might infect us with the same virus that created the world's ultimate terrorist!
      (Some portions of Godwin applies, see below for details.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:31AM (#38933017)

    Immediately made me think of this old TechTV segment on one of these cylinders being destroyed on camera.

    • That's like watching gore. Eww

    • by fleebait ( 1432569 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:50AM (#38933085)

      Those old recordings, really are more delicate than eggshells. When I was 5 or 6, in 1949, or 1950, I was at my friend's house. His father was a professor at University of Minnesota -- and had a box of old cylinders on a table in the basement. My friend showed them to me, and I proceeded to break, two, or three. I remember one being so delicate, just picking it up out of the box, by putting my finger through, was enough to break it. They were dull reddish brown, and I always thought they were made out of clay or plastic. Still feel guilty about it..

    • Dear god, I feel like I'm going to throw up. Here's a link [] for those you who aren't as squeamish about this kind of thing as I am.

    • by Machtyn ( 759119 )
      Yes, that guy should have put that cylinder down rather quickly. He should have realized his health condition was not conducive to handling delicate items.
  • Paranoid, or not paranoid enough...
  • Wonder what Brahms would make of the insanity that passes for copyright today.

    That phonograph is going to destroy my business! (radio, record, cassette, cd, DVD, Internet).

    Their squealling probably has been the same.

    • Wonder what Brahms would make of the insanity that passes for copyright today.

      It's a fact that many authors are very much for the kind of copyright laws being passed today. What makes you think Brahms would be any different?

      • by luke923 ( 778953 )

        True, but I don't think that Brahms' contemporaries would advocate for what passes for copyright law today where some multinational corporation can hold rights to an author's work ad infinitum.

      • by zarlino ( 985890 )

        Also it's a fact that many authors today create music not as nearly sophisticated as Brahms'. So there is hope that Brahms and other musical giants like him would have thought otherwise about copyright.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Wonder what Brahms would make of the insanity that passes for copyright today.

        It's a fact that many authors are very much for the kind of copyright laws being passed today. What makes you think Brahms would be any different?

        I don't know how many classical composers you know in person, but I know quite a few. They all seem to agree one thing: the current copyright laws don't benefit them at all. They get very little money from it. Most of it goes to the publisher or the rights-organization...

      • by Johann Lau ( 1040920 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:11PM (#38936303) Homepage Journal

        Classical composers were paid for composing; as in "we need a new tune for next sunday's mass, and another completely different tune, which will likely never get played again in your lifetime, for the mass on sunday after that". Kinda like a carpenter gets paid to make a table, not every time someone uses that table. People back then did NOT listen to that music over and over and over again. It was written, it got played, something new was written. Totally different from today, and I'm pretty sure classical composers would be laughing at things like Mickey Mouse Copyright. Also, not few of that music was more or less dedicated to God, not to Mammon. Sure, they liked being well fed, who doesn't... but that's not why they wrote those pieces, that is simply not how they operated. It kinda shows in the music, too. The heart, it cannot be hidden.

    • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @05:00AM (#38933271)

      Wonder what Brahms would make of the insanity that passes for copyright today.

      Dunno about Brahms, but we all know what happened when Bismark found out about Franz Ferdinand's bootleg copies of his hit song "eis eis baby".

  • MP3 of recordings (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:43AM (#38933069)

    • They are offering the mp3's for free... Did someone tell Birsmarck about all the money he's losing?

    • These recordings give us a good idea how crazy Copyright law has become. Under current copyright law [], recordings made prior to 1978 but which weren't published until after 1978 fall under modern copyright terms. For personal works that's life of the author + 70 years. But fo anonymous and pseudonymous works (e.g. various performances recorded by the Edison company), it's 95 years after publication, or 120 years if not published. Since these recordings were never published, they fall under the 120 year t
      • by Anonymous Coward

        No it didn't, not necessarily. A lawyer would probably argue that Bismarck commissioned Edison to make the recordings - that being the case, the relevant copyright law would be German, since under both codes Bismarck would hold the copyrights. If Edison was found to have commissioned Bismarck - unlikely - only then would the relevant law be American. Now, I have no idea if the German law would give a 120 year term or less, but for all I know, it's less, and the recordings could have entered the public domai

  • by Vlaix ( 2567607 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:48AM (#38933081)
    ... the first actual recordings ever made of sounds and voice can be found there : [].
  • Those 1860's Phonautograph recordings are more impressive IMO, though I could imagine how eery it must have been seeing someone's voice being rapidly printed in a snaky fashion, as if ribbons of silk were being pulled from their throats...
  • by arcite ( 661011 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @04:10AM (#38933141)
    So it was Colonel Mustard in the Billiard room with the candlestick that caused the Great War after all!
  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @04:11AM (#38933145) Homepage
    Click here to hear, from March 11, 1885, the first time the word 'fuck' was ever recorded. (Disc 3) [] Some fellow is making a test recording of 'mary had a little lamb' and screws it up in the middle, uttering 'oh fuck' before stopping and restarting the recording. There is no evidence he meant to say fuck, it was meant for internal use within the company. It survives to us today.

    I wonder who the first person to say 'shit' was?

  • Here's a link with a transcript:

  • Found on an old mechanical magnetic device, this information has been restored for the last 60 years but only now our quantum analysis have been able to decifer the information, probably due to some form or content protection. This is probably the earliest form of audio binary storage known to humans.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2012 @05:09AM (#38933285)

    At the turn of the 19th century, magnetic wire recordings become very popular in Northern Europe (except perhaps in Britain). It was the first widely distributed recording technology of N. Europe and in the 1910's, even relatively poor musicians could afford a machine (they usually started clubs for the purpose of buying and using one). There are lots of Northern European magnetic wire recordings from the late 1890's well into the 1950's. Compared to wax rolls, they have the advantage that the sound quality is good enough that you can actually hear how something sounded, so if you want to get a feeling of how Bismarks voice sounded, listen to one of the electric wire recordings of him, not this crappy recording.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ... so if you want to get a feeling of how Bismarks voice sounded, listen to one of the electric wire recordings of him, not this crappy recording.

      I think some historians would like to know where you found those electric wire recordings of him, as the second paragraph of the article quite clearly states
      "The cylinders, from 1889 and 1890, include the only known recording of the voice of the powerful chancellor Otto von Bismarck."

    • According to wikipedia, the wire recorder was invented in the late 1890s, was patented in the US in Nov 1900, and never saw widespread use. Peak use was between 1946 and 1954.
      • most interesting wire recording i've ever heard is tom lehrer's physical revue [], the earliest recordings of his material that exist. (the last song, "Any Questions", is particularly brilliant.)

  • I was surprised to read that they still use a device with a needle to play these. I would have thought that they'd be scanned with lasers, to avoid wear entirely and possibly to reconstruct the groove more precisely.

  • For the technically inclined, here are the specs of the "Archeophone" [], the device used to listen to these recordings.

  • When I read the title: I couldn't help but add: "Finding Lost Recording From the 1880s"... in tree rings.

    I would like to humbly introduce ".. in tree rings" as a catch phrase for research that goes into technological wonders of experimental advancement for a dubious cause. Think of it as a marriage of "..that's what she said" and IgNoble prize.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They require a log in now to read articles; please either link to an article in a different outlet or drop it.

  • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @08:58AM (#38934077) Journal
    Were they found on megaupload's seized servers?
  • by Creosote ( 33182 ) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @12:12PM (#38935055) Homepage

    It has long been known that Mark Twain dictated part of his novel The American Claimant [] onto Edison cylinders. It was an experiment that he never repeated. Strangely, for someone whose manner of speaking was celebrated and often described during his lifetime, no one else ever thought to record him for posterity.

    The American Claimant cylinders have long since gone missing. Keep your eye out for them in antique shops or your relatives' attics—if found, they would be worth who knows how many thousands or millions of dollars on the open market.

  • has waxed over the years

The best book on programming for the layman is "Alice in Wonderland"; but that's because it's the best book on anything for the layman.