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How to Turn a Paper Image of a Record Into a Beautiful Music

You can't make sounds from books, except when you can

Image: Loopdeloop

A picture is worth a thousand words, but how sweet is its sound? That might sound like a nonsensical question: pictures in books usually don’t make sounds. But, actually, it’s possible to take a printed picture and extract music from it.

Take a page of a book with a recording of a ballad called Der Hadschuch. In the middle, there’s a circle with lines on it. If you play those grooves, you get sounds.

How is this possible? Indiana University’s Media Preservation blog explains that, first, the historian takes a high resolution scan of the print, then warps the circle into a series of parallel lines. The next step is to fill the black and white parallel lines with a solid color. When the historian runs that files through a program called ImageToSound, music comes out.

You can hear the results here at their blog.

These sorts of printed records aren’t uncommon, they write:

Some other very old gramophone recordings have come down to us only in the form of prints made on paper, like the one on the fourth floor of Wells Library.  This isn’t a unique situation.  Many important early motion pictures that didn’t survive in the form of actual films were nevertheless preserved as paper prints deposited for copyright registration purposes with the Library of Congress and later retransferred to film for projection and preservation.  Similarly, I’ve found that paper prints of “lost” gramophone recordings can be digitally converted back into playable, audible form.

It’s really worth listening to these records at the Media Preservation blog—both for the sounds and for the images that show how they make these recordings.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Playing the Unplayable Records
From the Collections, Sound Recordings Heard for the First Time

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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