Library of Congress gramophone spins 100 year old hits online

While companies clamour to offer up-to-date access and storage of music online, there is certainly no lack of cutting edge ways to access your Lady Gaga mp3s.The Library of Congress over in the States has taken a rather more retrospective approach to cloud-hosted music.

Rather than drawing an audience with instant access to the likes of Justin Bieber, JLS or Dappy from Ndubz, a new service focusing on music from the early portion of last century will blast out the hits of George Gershwin, Leopold Stokowski and Dame Nellie Melba.

The virtual gramophone National Jukebox website, unveiled in partnership with Sony Music, will host 10,000 rare historic sound recordings made available for the first time in digital format, giving a fascinating glimpse at music and spoken word in the US between 1901 and 1925.

The streaming collection includes blues and early jazz, opera, famous speeches by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, poetry and humour that shows off the evolution of popular music and American cultural history.

At first the National Jukebox will feature recordings from the catalogue of Victor Talking Machine, one of two defunct record labels owned by Sony, though this will be expanded over time with more of the primitive recordings made with wax cylinders and predating microphones. Thankfully, not a vocoder in earshot.

Lead curator on the Library of Congress project Gene DeAnna spoke to TechEye about how, despite the basic recording methods used, the music is a valuable resource. Gene also treated us to an impromptu version of his favourite track on the site down the phone.

“It is important to recognise how long this has been part of the soundscape, a couple of generations at least,” he said, “and a lot of what can be heard can therefore be very new to people’s ears.

“You can find some songs that you have never heard before with striking and unique voices that will certainly grab you like they grabbed me.”

DeAnna believes that as historical documents, the recordings are invaluable as a snapshot of America at the time.

“The project gives a sense of what America was like before World War I, when there was a rush of immigration, and you can most certainly hear that in the music which gives you a real of feel of what life was like.

“By the late twenties, the music starts to morph into jazz which is also interesting to hear from a musical point of view.”

As for his favourite, track DeAnna points to ‘Peaches and Cream’ by Ada Jones and Len Spencer, which you can listen to here. He burst into song for a couple of verses.