Do you remember cylinder recordings? Of course not. They became obsolete long before you were born. However, my grandmother had a few of them when I was a child although the cylinders were obsolete even then. (I’m not THAT old!)
Welcome to the modern, digital, and online 21st century! Many of those old recordings are now available online. Yes, you can listen to the same music that some of your ancestors listened to. In those days, the devices were not called phonographs. Instead, they were “graphophones.”
Comment: I don’t think any of the recordings will ever win a modern-day Grammy Award! When I say these are old, I mean they are REALLY OLD. They are scratchy and very much low fidelity. But they still will interest many of us who are trying to imagine what our ancestors used for entertainment.
The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library contains the Cylinder Audio Archive, a carefully curated collection of over 19,000 historic phonograph cylinders. Over the past 15 years, the archive has grown to become the largest online collection of downloadable historical sound recordings available anywhere.
Invented by Thomas Edison in the late 1800s — long before CDs, cassette tapes, and vinyl records — phonograph cylinders are the earliest commercial recording medium. These hollow cylindrical objects are roughly the size of a soda can and function similarly to vinyl records, with audio engraved as grooves that can be played by a needle.
The folks at the UCSB Library have digitized the recordings, including fiddle tunes, Hawaiian music, (highly racist) minstrel shows, historical speeches, sermons, and even home recordings made by regular people, which showcase the everyday experiences of life during the 19th century. The collection includes many historical recordings from different ethnic groups and countries.
It is theoretically possible to find a recording in the collection made by one of your ancestors although the odds of such a discovery are slim. Still, it certainly will provide many examples of the records your ancestors listened to.
You can read more about this collection in an article by Sheila Tran in The Bottom Line, a web site produced by the University of California at Santa Barbara, at: https://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2020/01/cylinder-audio-archive-copy.
Even better, you can listen to the recordings at http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/.
Reminder: Again, these are not candidates for a modern-day Grammy Award!
Here’s a recording by George J. Gaskin recorded sometime between between 1896 and 1901: http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/detail.php?query_type=mms_id&query=990040834590203776&r=8&of=8.
Yes, our ancestors really did listen to these scratchy recordings!
Now, let me get my Compact Disc of “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa, with a 192kHz sampling rate, and play it on the McIntosh MC2152 Amplifier with the GoldenEar Technology Triton Five loudspeakers. Yes, advances in technology are a wonderful thing!