The Library of Congress presents the National Jukebox, which makes historical sound recordings available to the public free of charge. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives. Recordings in the Jukebox were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings.
At launch, the Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Jukebox content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other Sony-owned U.S. labels, including Columbia, OKeh, and others.
In sound recording, the acoustical era is from the 1890s until 1925. During this time, all sound recordings were made by mechanical means without the use of microphones or electrical amplification.
To make a sound recording prior to 1925, instrumentalists, singers, and speakers performed in front of a flared metal horn which gathered and funneled sound waves toward a thin diaphragm at the small end of the horn. The energy of the sound waves caused the diaphragm to vibrate. The vibrating diaphragm caused an attached stylus to etch the sound waves onto a blank wax rotating cylinder or disc. There were no electronic tone controls. All adjustments to the sound were made by altering the performer’s position relative to the horn or by trying horns of differing sizes or diaphragms of varied thickness.
To play back an acoustic recording, a mechanical reproducing machine reversed the process. A reproducing point-usually a steel needle, or a sapphire for cylinders-was affixed to an encased diaphragm (called a sound box or reproducer) that was attached to a tapering tube known as a tonearm. The needle running over a cylinder or disc caused the diaphragm to vibrate and create sound waves conducted through the tonearm.
A performer used a great deal of ingenuity to create a successful acoustically recorded performance. The artist manipulated the voice and stance before the horn, moving away from the horn for louder and higher notes to prevent distortion, and moving toward the horn to prevent under-recording soft sounds. Consequently these movements could distort the dynamics intended by the composer of a musical selection.
Source: Library of Congress