Musical history reborn: New recording techniques bring ghostly sounds back to life

HUDDERSFIELD, United Kingdom — What were music fans listening to back in the age before digital sound equipment? Scientists may finally have an answer! Pennine Records in the United Kingdom has released new music utilizing reconstructed acoustic sounds that were popular back before electric music recordings existed.

The two people leading this project, violinist Dr. David Milsom and pianist Dr. Inja Stanović, used historical recording technology for their out-of-the-box work. Both are members of the Historical Performance Research Group in the Department of Music and Design Arts at the University of Huddersfield. They created their new recordings using rare equipment that records music in the way people did prior to 1925.

“I had wanted the experience of making recordings this way for years, so when Inja and I got the chance towards the end of her Leverhulme project to make some recordings by the acoustic process, it was something we absolutely had to do and so we jumped at the chance,” says Milsom in a university release.

Both artists specialize in performing music dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and this work allowed them to reach even deeper into this concept and produce something refreshing and new, yet nostalgic and traditional.

“It has been an absolutely extraordinary, game-changing practice research experience and I hope that it will be a shop window on the current state of historical performance research. We are not only people who write about style in historical recordings, we are also professional, performing musicians,” Milsom adds.

Musicians playing music into old recording equipment.
Inja, David and Duncan Miller (right) using pre-electric era recording equipment. (Credit: University of Huddersfield)

The team moved the music from wax records to the Internet

Everything fell into place for the artists when the equipment to make wax disc recordings and an engineer capable of making these recordings come to life became available to them. Stanović’s husband, Dr. Adam Stanović, was able to make the recordings available online by transferring them from the wax discs to a digital form. The pianist has been passionate about not only listening to acoustic recordings but also using them to understand the time period and history.

“Musically it is extremely important to research this, but also to actually do them,” Stanović concludes. “Research, in this context, is not only about listening and writing; it is also about playing, and putting yourself in the shoes of historical musicians, accepting the small imperfections that are an inevitable consequence of a one-take recording and a wax recording medium.”

The musicians add that this is the first study of its kind to explore historical music and its recording machines in such a unique way, showcasing the array of ways that modern-day research can highlight historical works.

The work can be found here.

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Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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  1. I think the lede should be, “OLD recording techniques bring ghostly sounds back to life.”

    Next up, “What kind of pictures did people look at before digital cameras?”

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