21st Century Cylinders

Lost and Found Sound: Giants of Music Record on Wax

Winton Marsalis, a wax cylinder enthusiast, holding his trumpet.

A wax cylinder enthusiast. hide caption

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What do Les Paul, They Might Be Giants, Wynton Marsalis and Hillary Clinton have in common? They've all put their heads into big, brass horns and recorded wax cylinders at the Thomas Edison National Historical Site in West Orange, New Jersey. In the past few years, these people have made a trip to Edison original music room to cut cylinders.


Wynton Marsalis Wynton Marsalis has a new CD coming out that includes music recorded by this method: "MISTER JELLY LORD — STANDARD TIME — VOLUME SIX" on Columbia Jazz records. He's using the old style recording medium because that's how the music of past jazz masters was captured. Les Paul turned to wax cylinders because he's always experimented with technology - having invented the multi-track method for audio tape.

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson.

John Flansburgh of the group They Might Be Giants discovered that the style of singing we hear in old wax cylinders results from the need to project loudly in the absence of electronic amplification.

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