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IRENE Seeing Sound Blog

Audio Reformatting Project Planning


It's an exciting time at NEDCC!  Very soon the Center's IRENE service will be available to cultural instituions across the U.S.

As our IMLS IRENE grant project begins to wrap up, the Center is welcoming project inquiries for reformatting early audio collections with IRENE at NEDCC's headquarters in Andover, MA.

The most appropriate candidates for the Center’s IRENE service are unique or rare recordings, broken or damaged media, and media that are too delicate to play with a stylus.



We are also keeping track of funding opportunities for IRENE projects, so you can begin developing your project. Here is an appropriate grant from NEH:

Humanities Collections and Reference Resources (HCRR) Grant Program

Application deadline: July 17, 2014 for projects beginning May 2015

The HCRR grant program supports projects that provide an essential underpinning for scholarship, education, and public programming in the humanities. Thousands of libraries, archives, museums, and historical organizations across the country maintain important collections of books and manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings and moving images, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, art and material culture, and digital objects. Funding from this program strengthens efforts to extend the life of such materials and make their intellectual content widely accessible, often through the use of digital technology.

For complete information and guidelines, visit: NEH Preservation and Access

Note the advice from an NEH program officer about applying for an HCRR grant to reformat audio collections with IRENE:  “Applicants should demonstrate that they have established contact with the source of services and have a good idea of the logistics and costs involved.” 


There is a great article about the development of the IRENE technology and the work of Carl Haber, Vitaliy Fadeyev, and Earl Cornell, in the May 19, 2014 issue of the New Yorker Magazine, entitled:

"A VOICE FROM THE PAST: How a physicist resurrected the earliest recordings."

Don't miss it!

Photo, Carl Haber:
Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory

IRENE Tested on Aluminum Discs

This week the IRENE lab has been conducting experiments with aluminum transcription discs. 

Invented in 1929, aluminum transcription discs were the first electrical instantaneous recordings. In a time when radio programming was performed live, transcription recording allowed stations to archive programs, delay broadcasts, or prove advertisements to sponsors.  By 1940 the format was obsolete, superseded by lacquer disc recording beginning in 1934.

aluminum disc video

Instead of the time intensive process of cutting a wax disc, plating it, and pressing shellac, aluminum discs allowed sounds to be played back immediately after recording. Aluminum can't be cut like wax, however, so the discs were recorded by embossing the surface with a heavy recording head, leaving a relatively fragile groove that must be played back with a wooden or fiber stylus.

In the absence of supplies and expertise, this format has become a high preservation priority. Like we've mentioned with wax cylinders and lacquer discs, aluminum transcription discs benefit from the optical approach by eliminating the wear associated with traditional mechanical playback.


A Determined Point of View

Our pilot 'collection' (so far) is a single disc of student speeches from Amherst College. The date is  January 1941, eleven months before America will enter World War II. The topic of debate is American involvement in the war, something that was on the minds of all U.S. citizens. This young scholar's heartelt opinion on war received high marks from his speech teacher, and he was noted for his "determined point of view," although it seemed that he "walked around too much." (Who can blame him?!)

                       Alum_documentation         Aluminum1


The recording was stored in a sleeve that included the transcript of the speech. (Click on the photos to enlarge.)

 Photos by Patrick Breen, NEDCC Photographer


Preservation Week - Lasting Lacquer

Celebrating Preservation Week with Carnegie Hall

The Carnegie Hall Archives celebrated Preservation Week with a blog post honoring renowned American Conductor Robert Shaw's 98th birthday, and highlighting their Digital Archives Project as well as the NEDCC IRENE system's work on their collection of rare lacquer discs. 

April 30, 2014 - Carnegie Hall blog: Lasting Lacquer

(The post includes a great 1956 documentary on how a lacquer disc is made. Don't miss it!)



LEARN MORE about the Carnegie Hall Archives.

CHECK OUT NEDCC's IRENE Seeing Sound blog post for March 28 for more on the Carnegie Hall IRENE project.