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IRENE Seeing Sound Blog

IRENE3D and 2D Too!

This week, testing is underway in NEDCC’s IRENE lab for the 2D capabilities of the system. The IRENE system operates two separate cameras – IRENE3D and IRENE2D.

Because the grooves on materials such as wax cylinders are cut vertically, the IRENE3D camera captures the up-and-down (“hill-and-dale”) topography through which a stylus would travel along the groove. The IRENE2D camera captures the side-to-side shape of the grooves in materials that were cut laterally, like 78’s, lacquer discs, and dictabelts, etc. In both cases, the software analyzes the images and then converts that data into sound.


A sample 78 recording used in the IRENE/2D testing phase.

(Elvira de Hidalgo December 28, 1891 – January 21, 1980)

disc grooves

This is how IRENE sees the grooves on the 78 recording above.




NEDCC will soon be testing IRENE on damaged or broken cylinders and discs, allowing
the images to be stitched back together, and the sound recaptured.

Think of the preservation possibilities!

"The Tune She Most Clung To . . ."

The Middlebury College Flanders Ballad Collection
IRENE 3D Imaging project continues . . .


One of the performers featured on the wax cylinders being imaged with the IRENE 3D camera:

Ellen M. Sullivan, Springfield, VT
Singing 'The Wild Cowboy'

Mrs. Ellen M. Sullivan was a special friend of Flanders. In a 1957 lecture, Flanders recalled her early meetings with Sullivan:

“In around 1932 in my home town of Springfield, Vermont, I discovered Mrs. Sullivan, a bedridden woman whose Irish memories were pure poetry when recounted in prose, even more so when in the form of old ballads. She could slightly keep a tune and the tune she most clung to was used for many different ballads. Her digressions were as important as background to her singing. Mrs. Sullivan sang or recited over fifty-five songs and told several stories between 1932 and 1940.”

(From An Index to Field Recordings in the Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, 1983. Middlebury College Special Collections.)

We Have Sound!

Now that the IRENE system has been assembled at NEDCC, we begin the pilot phase of the project by reformatting a collection of wax cylinders from the Helen Hartness Flanders Collection from Middlebury College in Vermont, a collection of field recordings of folk music in New England from the 1930's through the 1950's.

The following sound clip was recorded in the NEDCC Audio Lab using the IRENE3D camera which created a high-resolution digital 'map' of the cylinder without touching the object's surface, and processed the images into digital sound files within minutes.

"Up and Down the Grade" performed by
 Girard Lucien, Burlington, Vermont - Circa 1931


The wax cylinders from Middlebury are the "Dictaphone" type as shown here.


Here's the "Seeing Sound" part - the IRENE software shows the sound clip as condensed vertically in the top panel, as the natural dimensions of the grooves at the right, and as a graph of the cross section of the grooves in the bottom panel.

About the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection

One of the nation's great archival collections of New England folksong, folklore, and balladry, the Flanders Ballad Collection was the lifework of Helen Hartness Flanders (1890-1972), of Springfield, Vermont.

In 1930, Mrs. Flanders, daughter of a former Governor of Vermont, wife of Ralph Flanders, Republican Senator from Vermont from 1946-1959, and a trained musician, was appointed by the Committee on Traditions and Ideals of the Vermont Commission on Country Life to spearhead a project to document the traditional music of Vermont.

Over the course of thirty years, and with the assistance of Marguerite Olney, Flanders gathered and preserved more than 4,800 field recordings of New England folksongs and ballads as sung by native Vermonters and other New Englanders.



Helen Hartness Flanders with 'Aunt Olive May.'

Photos and sound courtesy of
Middlebury College Special Collections.

(LEARN MORE about NEDCC's IMLS grant to devlop IRENE to serve America's cultural institutions.)