The wax cylinders in the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv (Museum of Ethnology) constitute 351 collections of world-wide traditional music that were recorded with a phonograph between 1893 and 1954. More than 30,000 cylinders, including 2,700 original recordings, 14,000 galvano-negatives and 13,000 old copies were accounted for in 1991, when the cylinders that had been evacuated during World War II and stored in Eastern Europe were returned to the Museum.

It was at this time that the Wax-Cylinder project commenced. In 1998 with the support of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz and the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin the project “Safeguarding the largest collection of the oldest sound documents of traditional music in the world – Restoration and transfer of the famous collections of cylinders and shellac records of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv 1893–1954” was officially established.

The size and condition of the collection required painstaking preparatory work in technically archiving these unique historical sound documents, researching them as to their content and making them accessible to the public.



Excelsior Phonograph

Some of the listeners who hear a wax cylinder recording for the first time may be shocked at the poor quality. The conditions, under which the collection has suffered since the original recordings were made more than 100 years ago, above all since World War II, have taken their toll. It was, therefore, especially challenging to treat the recordings for their sound in an appropriate way before publication.

Indeed, on one hand the aim was to preserve the sound character of the original recording as much as possible, while on the other to improve the sound quality. Whereas it was relatively simple to minimise crackling noises, the reduction of background noises proved to be extremely difficult. Namely, the latter covers almost all of the music information in the recording and, moreover, is never consistent.

Thus, the treatment of the recordings presented here represents a compromise, which we hope the listener will accept.

 -Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv

Wax Cylinders from the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv (Museum of Ethnology)