By Pack, Thomas
Information Today , Vol. 28, No. 10
How would you record a song if you didn't have a microphone?
At the beginning of the 20th century, the sounds from voices and instruments were funneled through a large metal horn that caused the attached diaphragm to vibrate. The diaphragm then vibrated a stylus that etched the sound waves onto a rotating wax cylinder or disc. Although there was no way to control the sound electronically, you simply adjusted the sounds by moving musicians closer to or farther from the horn or by using horns of different sizes.
You can see a photo of the acoustic recording process in the About section at the National Jukebox (www.loc.gov/jukebox), a website created by the Library of Congress (LC) to provide free access to a collection of pre-1925 music, including ragtime, jazz, blues, folk music, country, classical, and musical theater recordings. They're often scratchy, but the sound quality is good otherwise.
You won't recognize many names in the jukebox, but some will probably be familiar, such as opera singer Enrico Caruso, Broadway legend Al Jolson, composer and lyricist Irving Berlin, and composer, arranger, and conductor John Philip Sousa. The jukebox is not just important historically; it's also a lot of fun. There are even collections of whistling and yodeling recordings.
Your New Gramophone
The National Jukebox offers more than 10,000 78 rpm disc sides recorded by the Victor Talking Machine Co. between 1901 and 1925. Sony Music Entertainment now owns these recordings, but it granted the LC a license to stream them.
You can search the collection with keywords or use the Advanced Search feature to specify dates, language, category, or target audience. You can browse by genre, artist, composer, or lyricist.
However you access the collection, the LC invites you to "imagine your computer as a new Gramophone purchased for family and friends to enjoy in your home parlor. …