We need your help identifying the sound from a home recording made, we believe, over a hundred years ago. This test is quite distinct from the one we proffered in The Big Sleuth, where we knew the contents of the cylinder’s audio that is drowning in a sea of noise but wanted to see if you could figure it out. On this one, the sound is crystal clear, but we have no idea what the song is that’s being sung. We aren’t even sure it’s in English.
It’s a brown-wax concert cylinder (the large, 5-inch diameter type), which means it can’t be any earlier than 1898. Based on the group of cylinders it was found with, we believe it is a recording by the Rittersville Church Choir, from Rittersville (now incorporated into Allentown), Pennsylvania. In any case, it’s definitely a chorale of multiple mixed voices, and we know it’s a sacred selection because the one word that can clearly be made out is the double “Amen” sung at the end.
A few months back, a friend of ours returned from a cross-country trip. He had attended a phonograph and record show while away and was having his purchases shipped to his home. One of the lots he bought was a box of “shavers”: heavily molded cylinders, too damaged to be played or enjoyed, and generally so noisy you can’t even make out what is on them. Some collectors will pick these up and shave them down to pristine brown wax and use them for new recordings. You can usually get these for a few bucks apiece.
Well, the box was not packed very well, and when it arrived, most of the contents were smashed to bits. A couple survived. On close inspection, one of them looked to have a bit more modulation than David remembered. Hopeful, he transferred it and sent us the audio file and asked if we could make out what it is.
After some work, we got it, and it’s something we’ll be using on an upcoming project. Now, we’re asking you to join in the sleuthing fun. Here’s the first half of the record. Can you tell what this is?