Electronic Music On An Edison Phonograph Cylinder


Edison phonograph cylinders were the earliest commercial platform for distributing sound recordings, and from about 1896 to 1915, this is what ‘records’ looked like.

By the 1910s, though, phonograph cylinders were being sidelined by discs, which were easier to manufacture, ship and store, and had a greater capacity. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to find modern music in the cylinder format.

Here’s a rare example of electronic music on Edison cylinder:

The music is by Seattle-based ‘neue shoegazer’ band Red Martian.

The cylinder is from a limited edition cut by Benjamin Canady (aka “The Victrola Guy“).

Technical details:

Phonograph is a Model D 2/4 combination with an S reproducer and Cygnet horn mic’ed with an SM57

Music performed live using a Roland TR-808, Jupiter-4, Jupiter-6 and Yamaha CS-15

29 thoughts on “Electronic Music On An Edison Phonograph Cylinder

  1. This is awesome. I plan to release my new song as a limited edition deluxe Emulator 1 disk. The music will totally suck – seriously, my “music” is truly terrible – but it will be newsworthy because I am choosing a non-traditional form of record distribution.

  2. Interesting, for sure. But the question is: “What can we do with the result, the sound from the phonograph? Waht can we do more or easier (rather not, I think) or with musically richer results than manipulating our tracks and sounds the common way in our studios full of electronics? What can we achieve this way more or better or deeper than using DAWs and Studios and, and, and? Or shal I understand it as a merely philosophical experiment linking sound/music over the centuries? Would be ok as well.

    1. Rolf – why not do things like this just because they are fun and interesting?

      Everybody and anybody can record digital audio in their DAW – what philosophical enlightenment are you going to get from being the 10 millionth person to make a track in your home studio?

      If I had a Edison Phonograph, it would be awesome to have some techno recordings that sounded like somebody time-traveled back a hundred years to record them!

      1. LOL, no one says it is experimental, it is an experiment tho and the result is it is simply a blunt juxtaposition of old and modern tech, but it sounds beautiful

  3. i think this is amazing. i have always been fascinated by this machine. there are many plug-ins that could emulate this sound but there is still nothing like hearing the real thing. bravo, i love it.

  4. This awesome! Love to see people that have the inspiration to do something new with forgotten tech.

    Pea Hicks has done some amazing stuff with Optigans, saving them from being forgotten toys.

  5. Judging from the quality, I now understand why nobody in the late 1800’s recorded electronic music on these, yet sadly that foolish quest for perfection, from those early electronic pioneers, has meant all those early electronic music performances are lost to time.

    A worthwhile experiment if only to end the analogue vs digital debate.

  6. I love it. Fun experiment. I’ve been into sampling 100-year old cylinder recordings. Such a weird, lo-fi sound that’s not easy to replicate without the real wax.

    1. yeah i’d hack a varispeed motor into the player. iirc those cylinders go pretty fast so using your hand isn’t the best move!

      electro-mechanical techniques is surprisingly unexplored area, i think given how much more is possible today in terms of integration/interaction and affordabilty. really interesting with various tape formats – because it’s a lot easier to get your own sound on to it, but i’d still like something that was easier to make at home and easier to define your own length for loops. 3d printed lock grooves maybe…i’ve been trying to figure out modern method how to do oil can delay.

      another area that’s nice to mess with is motors changing position of speakers/horn and mic. without movement it’s also a nice alternatives to eq.

      because our ears are designed to do spacial location and are very finely tuned working with real world i think it feels really immersive. i like doing these kinds of effects with software too and it can sound good, but i don’t really get on when the interface mimics and/or makes you visually look at 3d space, especially with a 2d interface, feels more fake and disconnected than just closing my eyes and messing with parameters.

      I think modern (last 10 yrs or so) productions are going to sound really dated because most sound technically excellent and loud/clear at the expense of spacial immersion and feel.

  7. Interesting, but “neue shoegazer”? That was about as far from anything loosely labeled shoegazer as I’ve ever heard. Pearl Jam is more shoegazer than that.

  8. i probably will make a digital boutique version with a mini cylinder, funded thru kickstarter. mysterious teaser vid will be out soon!

  9. Cool! Super annoying comments on this site though. Apparently we should all stick to five dollar music apps and only record on our ripped version of ableton. Check out this sweet serum preset yo!

    1. But without detailing the advantages then I doubt many will be convinced that this is useful in any way. But it does highlight the nonsense of vinyl being better in a digital age, once you extend that premise to phonograph wax cylinders the mindset that a piece of plastic recording from a point in history holds any advantage soon falls apart. It is useful experiment to show progression in recording media to this very day.

  10. This should be a reminder that records are actually gramophone records and therefore your amplifier phono stage is wrongly labelled. It should be gramophone.

    No wonder the world is in the state it is.

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