Engineer Remasters Thomas Edison’s Musical Recordings

Marc Hildebrant finds the missing notes in mechanically recorded performances

3 min read
sketch of early sound recording with pianist
Hit it, Maestro: Early sound recording relied on the direct mechanical force of acoustic vibrations to etch patterns in cylinders and discs.
Photo: AP Photo

One of the best parts of working for IEEE Spectrum is the opportunity to discover intriguing tech projects that are pure labors of love, whether it’s building a 16-bit CPU out of discrete transistors or keeping a collection of vintage personal computers alive. So when I heard about Marc Hildebrant’s work on using digital techniques to restore mechanically recorded music to its full glory, I had to know more.

The earliest sound-recording and playback technology was pioneered by Thomas Edison in 1877. The system was purely mechanical: To record a performance, musicians arranged themselves around a recording horn, at the other end of which a diaphragm vibrated in accordance with the incoming sounds. A needle attached to the diaphragm etched a track in the recording medium—first cylinders, and later discs. Playback was simply a reversal of this process, with a needle vibrating a diaphragm at the base of a horn. In the 1920s, the recording switched to an electrical system using microphones. By the 1930s, electrical playback was also available.

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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