In 2012, the NFSA was contacted by Dorothy Tietze (nee Lithgow), who wished to donate a brown wax cylinder recording of a relative, Albert Henry Randall. Little was known about this home recording except that it was of Randall reading a Sunday school report in Bendigo. The cylinder had been brought to Queensland from Victoria sometime between 1904 and 1907 on a visit by Wooton and Ellen Lansell to their daughter’s family, George and Eva Lithgow.
Brown wax cylinders are incredibly fragile and could only be played a limited number of times, so not many of these early recordings still survive. This is a pity as these recordings can tell us much about the social history of this period, things that cannot be revealed in photographs or letters. Home recordings such as this one are interesting because they capture social history, the story that’s not told in the history books, giving us a more intimate picture of society.
Once the cylinder was selected for our collection, the priority was to ensure its safe arrival at the NFSA. Rather than trusting a courier, I decided to hit the road and pick it up in person from Dorothy in Queensland. The cylinder was transported in a special foam-packed suitcase to ensure its safe arrival in Canberra. I was nursing it in the car on the way to the airport like a newborn baby only to watch it bump its way down on the conveyer belt at airport security!
The condition of the cylinder was poor with large areas of mould and scuffing and light scratches on the surface. As a result, the audio quality was also poor, with Albert Randall’s voice so quiet that it was almost inaudible and there was a lot of surface noise.
The cylinder was digitised by our audio expert Gerard O’Neill, with an Archéophone (which is specially designed to copy cylinder recordings), using a Stanton 500 series 2.5 TE stylus on a flat frequency curve. One quarter the way into playing the cylinder, there was a locked groove, so a part of the recording kept playing over and over again.
Here are three versions of the digitised cylinder recording, with each recording using different levels of click and noise removal software and equalisation to reduce background noise and improve the intelligibility of Albert Randall’s voice. With more processing, the intelligibility of a recording may be improved, however the authentic characteristics of the original recording may be lost.