Preserving the Sound Archive

Preserving the Sound Archive

An interview with Julia Weaver, BBC Sound Archivist

Julia Weaver, who preserves sound recordings for the BBC, tells us about everything from wax cylinders to digital files.


What are the earliest sound recordings?

The collection goes back to the late 1800s. Thomas Edison in 1877 invented the phonograph as a way to reproduce the human voice, and his first recordings were recorded on a drum with tin foil covering, but he could only record about two to four minutes' worth of material, and once it had been played a few times it did degenerate. From that he developed the wax cylinder, of which we have 200 in the archive. Thomas Edison recorded quite a few well-known Victorian people. We suspect that this was to promote his new invention. We have a recording made by Florence Nightingale on 30 July 1890.
(sound clip)
Florence Nightingale must have been absolutely amazed to be involved in this recording at that time and to know that this recording was actually going to outlive her. I have an example here of an early wax recording. It's made of a very soft wax and the groove runs in this direction around the cylinder. The diamond stylus would actually run in a groove along the surface and record onto it.

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