The Phonographic Funeral of Baby Burr

In the latter half of 1895, newspapers around the United States relayed the startling news that a phonograph had just conducted a funeral service in place of a live clergyman. The very idea of putting a machine to such a use grated with some critics’ sensibilities, and even the Phonoscope, a trade journal ordinarily eager…

The Art of Face Averaging: 2020 Edition

Digital face averaging has been a perennial topic on this blog, and in this post I’d like to share some of my latest results, which I think far outmatch what I was able to do just ten months ago.  I’ll discuss techniques below, but let’s start by letting the images speak for themselves.  Click on…

Musical Records of the Michigan Phonograph Company

During the third annual convention of local phonograph companies held at Chicago in the summer of 1892, a roll call was taken to determine which companies with representatives in attendance were then “making musical records.”  Many of the positive responses come as no surprise today: serious historians of the early recording industry have long been…

Ruminations on the Voynich Manuscript

As the “world’s most mysterious book,” the Voynich Manuscript is like an inkblot test: whatever people make of it tends to reveal more about them than it does about the manuscript itself.  Its study shares resonances with pareidolia, akin to seeing recognizable shapes in clouds or wood grains, and with the Law of the Instrument,…

Berthold Laufer’s Chinese Stereo Recordings of 1901

In 1901, Berthold Laufer recorded Chinese music and drama using two phonographs at the same time, one for vocals and one for instruments.  Today we can combine the resulting pairs of recordings in stereo, and I’ll be sharing a few examples below, together with an explanation of how I prepared them.  Laufer’s pairs of simultaneously…