Waxing eloquent about eloquent wax
The aforementioned out-of-print Imaginary Songs from Tristan de Cunha featured some exotic sonic treatments which, on some investigation, turned out to be Hardanger fiddler and longtime Deathprod pal Ole Henrik Moe’s work transferred to wax cylinder and then played back for that great turn-or the-century-before-last sound.
Evocative of what I might imagine faraway Tristan de Cunha to sound like and properly faux ethnographic ‘n spooky? You betcha. It got me thinking right away about the proper collection of pluggo plug-ins to recreate the effect (wasteband to really brick-wall the frequency response, and warble for that special wobble? I’m open to suggestions).
Of course, there are other artists who, like Sten, have simply gone to the source and recorded their own wax cylinders. They Might Be Giants “I can hear you” from Factory Showoom came to mind right away (recorded at the Edison Studios in darkest Nueva Jersey). And there’s also the Music Tapes‘1st Imaginary Symphony for Nomad, too. You can hear a snatch of it here at Artist Direct.
But what about the real thing? Those neat historical artifacts? Another triumph for the New Flattened Information Space! Tinfoil.com is a veritable treasure trove of old performances, vaudeville routines, recitations (William Jennings Bryan, anyone?) Morse Code transmissions (apparently about Jack Johnson), and so on. My personal favorite would have to be the “Esquimaux Dance”, a piece written for clarinet, piano, anvil, and dog that appears to date from the 1890s. There’s even an article on hints and tips for Wax Cyclinder recording at home.
But the coolest thing I discovered while cyberrummaging is that a bunch of researchers have turned their attention to using scanning technologies for the purpose of working to restore old and extremely fragile wax cylinder recordings. You can find a PDF of a paper about their work here.