Entering the campus of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ is like stepping back in time to the turn of the 20th Century. Edison’s factory building and laboratories still stand, meticulously preserved so that future generations may learn about the man who brought us the light bulb, the motion picture, and who effectively founded the record industry by developing the machinery to record music.
[photogallerylink id=34392 align=right]Edison’s phonograph machines were the topic of the day last week as singer and songwriter [lastfm]Suzanne Vega[/lastfm] joined the Audio Engineering Society and a group of students from Bay State College for a demonstration of early audio recording techniques. Click through to watch as Vega performs her classic hit “Tom’s Diner” onto a vintage wax cylinder, using only the power of her voice and Edison’s amazing machines.
The Thomas Edison National Historic Park is a fascinating place to visit, and plays host to tourists and school groups all year round at the facility in West Orange, near Newark, New Jersey. Artifacts from Edison’s time are carefully preserved and arranged in the very buildings he and his teams of scientists toiled in over a century ago. A reproduction of the “Black Mariah,” the contraption Edison used to create the first motion picture, is visible from the street and stands as a reminder of the many industries launched by Edison’s inventions.
After a brief history lesson from museum curator Jerry Fabris covering the earliest sound recording techniques and Edison’s revolutionary contributions, the stage was set for the day’s main event: the wax cylinder recording session. [lastfm]Suzanne Vega[/lastfm] generously donated her time and voice for the occasion, marking at least the second time that Vega had participated in a significant development in audio engineering (Vega’s voice was also used by Karlheinz Brandenburg, sometimes known as the “Father of the MP3,” as he calibrated that new audio encoding technique).
What follows is a demonstration of the recording techniques employed by Thomas Edison and his engineers over a century ago. Listen for the moment when the playback of Vega’s recording begins, and watch the sense of wonder that creeps across the faces of those in attendance, each of them instantly transported back in time by the sounds coming out of the phonograph.
Below, enjoy [lastfm]Suzanne Vega[/lastfm]‘s a capella performance of “Tom’s Diner” as recorded onto, and played back by, a vintage Thomas Edison phonograph machine.
For more information on the Thomas Edison National Historic Park visit the website here. Also worth a visit are the websites of the Audio Engineering Society, Bay State College, and of course Suzanne Vega.