Sound achievement

SouthamptonUniversity researchers are the first recipients of an international prize that rewards outstanding contributions to research in the field of image and sound preservation.

The team of five academics and research staff has been awarded the James A Lindner Prize for their Sound Archive project, which uses non-contact scanning to preserve mechanically-recorded sound recordings in a digital format.

The team’s non-contact scanning technique involves optically measuring the surface of cylinder and disc recordings to create a digital representation of the recorded surface, using instruments normally associated with surface engineering. This digital surface map may then be post-processed by software to recover the sound. The technique has particular relevance to rare or damaged sound artefacts that are deemed ‘unplayable’ by conventional stylus playback methods.

Prof John McBride from the School of Engineering Sciences at SouthamptonUniversity said: ‘Early wax cylinders are unstable and at risk of deterioration. A non-contact method of sound reproduction ensures that no pressure is exerted on these fragile artefacts, meaning that no further damage is caused to the grooves during playback.’

The team has recently scanned a heavily-damaged cylinder held by the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, which contains the voice of Evan Roberts, a famous Welsh preacher. It is the only sound recording of his voice in existence. The cylinder was broken and in very poor surface condition, but had been reconstructed by an American dentist.

The Sound Archive project began in March 2005 and is based in the Electromechanical Research Group in the School of Engineering Sciences at SouthamptonUniversity. The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and is a collaboration between SouthamptonUniversity, TaiCaan Technologies, and the British Library Sound Archive.

The prize, which is a certificate accompanied by a cash sum, was presented to team member Antony Nascè at the Association of Moving Image Archivists Annual Conference (AMIA) in Savannah, Georgia last week.

For more information about the project and to listen to recovered sound recordings, visit: