Wednesday, April 13, 2011


In January of 1944 my father brought home a small machine on which home recordings could be made. I can't know for sure if the machine shown above was exactly like the one he brought home, but it's possible, as the time frame was right. After dinner, my father set it up in the living room and called together our little family, which included me (8 years old) and my younger sister (age 6).

I recall two records being made. The first, which was the "test drive" had each of us girls speak a little childhood rhyme, and the second was of my playing "Hungarian Airs" on the violin. I have no recollection of any others being made, and I'm sure the recording machine itself went back to the retail appliance store where my father was the manager. I'm sure his idea was to familiarize himself with how it worked so he could sell it.

The records themselves were about 7" in diameter and seemed to be of a sturdy but thin cardboard. I don't remember how I managed to become the "keeper" of those records, but along the way I accumulated records of two yearly concerts by our college choir, dating from 1954 and 1955. Then I added one from my son's junior high school band concert in the early 1970s -- and a couple more I can't remember. In the 1980s I was able to play the old violin recording on the stereo unit Jerry and I owned, but that is the last time I heard any of them.

Several months ago when my son was down from Sonoma we got talking about old times and I mentioned the Vina Danks band concert record -- and I brought all those old records out for him to look at. He offered to take them home and see if he could get them onto mpg3 files.

Imagine my surprise when last week I got this e-mail from my son, which he sent to all our family members:

While on a visit to SoCal some months ago, my mother gave me a hand full of old recordings that she has kept for years, in some cases, since 1944. I thought that you all might be interested in what I'm doing with those recordings, specifically that I'm digitizing them, playing them on a turntable and recording them on my computer, and then cleaning up the noise as best I can. The links below will take you to a series of MP3 that are hosted on my website and you can hear mom play the violin when she was 8 years old and hear the Dobbins family (not including uncle Steve who wasn't yet born in 1944) tell "Little Stories".

I don't know if your kids (the grandkids and great grandkids) will be interested in this, please feel free to pass this on to them. I will leave it to you all to explain what a "record player" is to any who don't know. :)

If any of you have similar recordings that you'd like to save for posterity, let's talk.

If you go to the website below, you'll find two mp3 files that are the result of my re-recording the two items above. Little Stories begins with my grandfather, Scott Dobbins, asking his two daughters, Bobby (my mom at 8) and Ginnie Lou (6?) to tell their story. My grandmother is there too, although she is almost too soft spoken to be heard and is apparently flummoxed by the recording process and "can't think of a thing to say." I have no idea how the original recording was made, but it is on a cardboard disk about half again the size of a CD.

Hungarian Airs is again my mom at age 8, playing the violin. This disk is a vinyl disk somewhat bigger than the cardboard disk described above. This disk is a pretty bad shape and by the halfway point, the vinyl is so trashed that it's all but impossible to make out the sound of the violin, even with some pretty aggressive noise filtering.

So I invite any of you who are interested to check out these very old amateur recordings. I do have a couple of observations to make, though. I was 8-1/2 years old at the time, and I was not a dummy, by any means. But I can't imagine why I would recite such an elementary ditty for my part of the recording. While I was able to recite "Jack and Jill," my 8-1/2 year old granddaughter Justine is likely able to recite the whole Gettysburg address! So you'll have to pardon what I call the silliness of the recitative and chalk it up to the times. Secondly, when my own children heard this recording, they were less taken by hearing my voice at 8 than they were with hearing their beloved "Granddad" again.

So the whole episode has engaged our family in a nice conversation of "remember whens" - and I am so pleased that my son has the smarts and the talent to give a new life to some old things. (Come to think of it, I wonder if he could help with some new knees? I suppose not).

Anyway, just so you know who it was that was speaking in the tiny little voice and playing so softly on the violin it was me, below!


bogusman said...

I've moved the files to my public dropbox folder - it has more bandwidth that I do so this should give anyone interested a faster response.

Little Talk

Hungarian Airs No. 1

For those interested in the process, here is a sequence of files showing the raw to finished product.

The original recording was made at 78 RPM but I don't have anything that will play that. I recorded at 45 RPM.

Raw recording

I used the Open Source tool Audacity to do the hard work. The first step was to shift the speed from 45 to 78 RPM.

Speed shift to 78 RPM

Next, there is a huge amount of noise to be removed.

Noise filter added

Lastly, remove as much of the pops as I can.

Pop filter added

marciamayo said...

Wow, what a gift to everyone involved and the rest of us who are interested.