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The Oldest Oldies

January 2, 2012

Some of the first sound recordings ever made are finally being heard again.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

The oldest oldies.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the 1880s, Alexander Graham Bell and his colleagues made primitive sound recordings on media like glass, beeswax, and tinfoil.  Now, scientists have begun playing back these recordings, which previously wasn’t possible.

CARL HABER (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory):

Many of these recordings are very delicate and you wouldn’t want to touch them. 

HIRSHON:

That’s physicist Carl Haber of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.  His team takes a high-def digital picture of the recording, and then calculates what a needle moving through it would sound like.  The results are noisy, but if you listen closely, you can hear a voice reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb”:

[audio: Mary Had a Little Lamb]

or “To Be or Not to Be.”

[audio: To Be or Not To Be]

I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.