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New Technology, IRENE, Resurrects Voices Of Dead Poets, and More!

Friny

New Technology, IRENE -The power to pull sound from rare and fragile recordings without touching them

Our California corespondent, Joshua Cohen, recently wrote to us about new technology, IRENE, [which] “enables the playing of the discs without a needle or anything else touching the surface. that, do to old age, is otherwise useless! Jodh wrote,

IRENE [is] being used at a facility in Andover in conjunction with a Harvard Library that has one-of-a-kind old lacquer recordings of poets reading their own work? Wallace Stevens, TS Elliott & many more, up until now unplayable? This system, IRENE being its anachronym, invented by a physicist , enables the playing of the discs without a needle or anything else touching the surface that, do to old age, is otherwise useless!”

Below are excerpts from an article on IRENE from the Boston Globe:

“Technology Saves Echoes of Past from Silence”, by Jeremy Eichler* GLOBE STAFF APRIL 06, 2014

“On a winter afternoon in early 2000, Carl Haber, a bearded man in his mid-40s, may have looked like any other collector as he walked into Down Home, a music store in El Cerrito, Calif., picked out a stack of 78-r.p.m. records, paid for them, and drove away.

But Haber is not a record collector. He is an experimental physicist. And rather than placing the 78s on a turntable, he did something that had surely never been done before in the long and warmly crackling history of the phonograph. He took them to his office at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and placed them under a pristine $10,000 Leica stereo zoom microscope.

“On a winter afternoon in early 2000, Carl Haber, a bearded man in his mid-40s, may have looked like any other collector as he walked into Down Home, a music store in El Cerrito, Calif., picked out a stack of 78-r.p.m. records, paid for them, and drove away.

But Haber is not a record collector. He is an experimental physicist. And rather than placing the 78s on a turntable, he did something that had surely never been done before in the long and warmly crackling history of the phonograph. He took them to his office at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and placed them under a pristine $10,000 Leica stereo zoom microscope.

More than a decade later, Haber has won wide recognition, and a MacArthur Fellowship, for a revolutionary image-scanning technology that has the power to pull sound from rare and fragile recordings without touching them, and in so doing, to help protect some of the most vulnerable corners of this country’s aural heritage.

For years this technology was put to use only in Haber’s lab and at the Library of Congress, but over the last few months, a large converted mill building in Andover has become home to the fourth groove-scanning system in the country.

On a record, grooves are the channels into which sound waves were once etched. What if, Haber wondered, he could create a precise image of these grooves with enough detail to play back the sound not from the grooves but from the image itself?

Haber and his colleagues named their technology Image Reconstruct Erase Noise Etcetera, but nobody calls it that. Instead they use the acronym that was coined in tribute to that first 78: IRENE.

The IRENE system in Andover lives at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, an independent conservation lab known for its work on paper-based collections. In a small back room, a sound archivist has been working daily over the last few months next to two of IRENE’s cameras mounted on a flat surface about the size of a ping-pong table, scanning all varieties of records as well as older wax cylinders whose grooves are etched vertically and therefore require a special 3-D scanning technique.”

Assessing the Technology

IRENE just how widely the technology will ultimately be used remains to be seen. A set of crucial questions remains. Can IRENE — which Haber originally adapted from imaging techniques used in his particle physics research at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland — be deployed beyond the physics and research communities as a practical tool in the sound preservationist’s toolbox? Is it robust, scalable, and affordable enough to help save the millions of undigitized recordings that collectively represent humanity’s slowly crumbling aural heritage?”

 

IRENE’S Potential

IRENE has the potential to capture old recordings in their present state before they deteriorate any further. If nothing else, that can buy preservationists time, which, as it turns out, they may need more than anything else.

“IRENE is fantastic because it allows us to hear recordings that we otherwise would not be able to hear,” said David Giovannoni, an independent audio historian who is a member of First Sounds, the research collective that first tracked down the 1860 recording. “The downside is cost, but the good news is that we don’t need this new technology to transfer and preserve 99.99 percent of our grooved audio heritage.”

At Harvard, Technology Resurrects Voices Of Dead Poets

An article by Curt Nickisch for WBUR public radio says,

“Harvard uses computer software to convert the images of the microscopic squiggles to sound — sound that had been lost to the ages, like the single gouged side of a Robert Frost recording from around 1940.”

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*Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com

One comment on “New Technology, IRENE, Resurrects Voices Of Dead Poets, and More!

  1. Bravo! How very interesting.

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