Friday, April 30, 2010


Friends! Wax cylinders were the first commercially produced sound recordings! The Department of Special Collections at UC Santa Barbara Library has been preserving and digitizing their collection of nearly 8,000 original turn of the century wax cylinders here. The archive contains three songs about or including "owls" as their subject, including the rousing, mostly indecipherable lyrics of "The Owl in the Old Oak Tree" by "That Girl" Quartette.

At the beginning of many of the wax cylinders, the same voice enthusiastically announces the song title and name of the performing artist or orchestra (as heard here on "The Cannon Waltz" by Issler's Orchestra). This in itself seems like a conscious archival act; a way of preserving and maintaining biography and access to information. At the time, recorded music was attempting to compete with sheet music (in 1892 alone, the Tin Pan Alley hit "After the Ball" sold two million copies) and I can imagine the purveyors of this new technology picturing the first seconds of a recorded song as functioning similarly to the cover of a piece of sheet music.

When I learned about the existence of the Wayback Machine, which has been archiving the internet by continuously taking "snapshots" of it since 1996, I felt surprise, then relief. Why relief? Because ever since I found the mysterious "This Is Fun to Make a Blog on the Computer Website" last Fall, I have lived in fear that it will disappear, as it's creator, Eggagog, seems to have abandoned his/her project in 2007. Already, many of the embedded images that so vitally provide visual counterpoints to Eggagog's continued narrative have disappeared, replaced by tiny empty boxes, headstones where hosted images used to be. People of the future! Head into your digital museums and view the work of Eggagog, a true visionary of early Internet Folk Art!

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