Seeing Voices: Using Light to Restore and Preserve Early Recorded Sound

Dr. Carl Haber is an experimental physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley who has developed innovative technologies for the non-invasive capture and digitization of sound from fragile, damaged, or obsolete recording media (including early 20th century wax cylinder recordings of Indigenous languages that are now critically endangered or no longer spoken). These techniques, based on non-contact optical metrology and data analysis, have contributed immensely to preserving sound recordings of inestimable value to our cultural heritage that otherwise are in danger of being lost forever. In recognition of the extraordinary originality and value of this work, Dr. Haber was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013.

In his lecture, entitled “Seeing Voices: Using Light to Restore and Preserve Early Recorded Sound”, Dr. Haber will discuss the characteristics of early sound recordings and the use of this new technology as applied to a number of notable collections: field recordings of Native Americans and Canadians from the early 20th Century, the experimental sound recordings of Alexander Graham Bell, from the 1880’s, and ethnographic recordings collected by Milman Parry in Yugoslavia in 1930, which led to the oral-formulaic theory of epic poetry.

The technology and restoration of historic audio recordings will be illustrated with sounds and images. Additional information can be found at