Just a few months ago, I crossed the fourth floor of Wells Library from the elevators, located the volume with call number AP30 .U22 v.63 in the oversized shelving on the back wall, and opened it up to page 395 to reveal a circular image—on closer inspection, a nearly microscopic wavy line coiled into a tight spiral.
This isn’t just a pretty picture. It’s a bona fide sound recording—a “record.” In fact, it might arguably be the oldest “record” in the world that you can listen to today!
Let me clarify—I don’t mean it’s the world’s oldest sound recording. But nowadays when people use the word “record” colloquially to refer to sound media, they typically mean the specific format that includes LPs, 45s, and 78s—that is, the kinds of grooved disc you’d play on a “record player.” Technically, these “records” are based not on the phonograph Thomas Edison unveiled in 1877, but on the gramophone invented by Emile Berliner in 1887. The gramophone disc dominated the worldwide recording industry for much of the twentieth century and still has currency in the twenty-first, for instance in the art of turntabling. The distinctive crackle of its surface noise is stamped in the popular imagination as the quintessential “old recording” sound.
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