One way to understand the past is to listen to the music of the time. The Internet Archive is making that easier than ever with over 395,000 digitized records in the 78 RPM style, which dominated from 1900 to about 1950. The files are free to access, stream, and download. The collection is more than just entertaining, it is an important effort to digitize the sounds of history which have been preserved on brittle disks for almost a century.
The 78 RPM disc format became available in 1898. Made of shellac resin, they came in several sizes but were known for their 78 rotations per minute. They were recorded through a horn (later a microphone), with sound causing vibrations that engraved a pattern in the disc. The shellac material has not aged well, and some records can break from even being picked up. As such, digitizing these recordings is crucial.
The Great 78 Project, through the Internet Archive, is working towards this goal. George Blood, head of the audio-visual digitization company George Blood Audio, is a major contributor. “We’re currently delivering 5-6,000 sides per month,” said Blood to The Vinyl Factory, “and we’ll be working to get to 20,000.” The archive will be a “reference collection of sound recordings from the period of approximately 1880 to 1960.” This process is not easy; a record must be cleaned, conserved, and digitized. Files digitized by others can also be added.
“If we didn’t do this, 48,000 78s in a little library in Batavia III, Illinois, may have been lost. Same for a trove of more than 78,000 discs from a distributor that were packed up and abandoned in Rhode Island around 1947,” Bob George, curator for sound collections at the Internet Archive, explained. “If we didn’t do this, a family would never have discovered a self-recorded disc made by their late father when he was a child, 80 years ago–a record they never knew existed.” From sound effects to dance tracks to famous ballads to home recordings, the variety is endless.
Take a peek around the archive for yourself. You might just find an obscure gem or a favorite tune from Billie Holiday. If you or your family have 78 RPMs, you can donate them to be digitized and preserved. Help preserve musical and sound history for the whole world by supporting this excellent project.
Relive eras past with the sounds of digitized 78 RPM records from Billie Holiday's hits to those of young Frank Sinatra.
The Internet Archive’s George Blood collection offers over 385,000 records free to listen to and download.
h/t: [Open Culture]