Version: November 26, 2010

Peter Posthumus

Player of African wax


© 2010 John Coleman


The British Library has had a whole series of cylinder players built for playing the cylinders in the National Sound Archive. One was built with the purpose of playing the cylinders recorded by anthropologist Alice Werner in East Africa around 1912.

It has proven impossible for me to find out about these players directly from the people who know, as they say it is all commercial secrets and tell me nothing. All I can do is to quote from an article in the British Library web journal Initiatives for Access, and republish the image appearing therein (below), with the permission of its author Jonathan Purday:


»A cylinder machine was custom built for the project by Peter Posthumus at Pelec Systems, and incorporates a modern diamond stylus. The transfer is made to Digital Audio Tape (DAT), or to the Archive's SADiE editing system, which is normally only used for compiling the research copies of the material, or to edit material when the stylus sticks and repeats a section. The DAT machine is a Sony PCM-2700, fitted with the Audio and Design modification allowing verification of the data on tape. Monitoring is done on headphones so as to eliminate spurious background noise and clicks which might mask a problem during transfer. This need for quiet has meant that the SADiE computer has had to be sited remotely from its keyboard and screen, so its fan noise does not intrude.

»DAT tapes are not considered a secure long-term storage medium, and are only used as an interim mastering medium. Once in digital form, the sound is transferred to recordable compact disc (CD-R), using 16 bit sampling at 44.1kHz. The longevity of CD-R is still under discussion, and few of the manufacturers of blanks publish sufficiently detailed figures. One exception is Kodak, who claim a minimum life expectancy of a hundred years for their CD-Rs, and back this up with detailed maths which Peter Copeland, who oversees the technical aspects of the project, professes himself convinced by.«


From the images I can figure out that the player uses a Revox arm, and John Coleman writes me that it uses a Shure M44C cartridge.

Christer Hamp, 2010

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