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December 15, 2011

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Alexander Graham Bell recordings played from 1880s

By BRETT ZONGKER
The Associated Press

December 14, 2011

WASHINGTON — Alexander Graham Bell foresaw many things, including that people could someday talk over a telephone. Yet the inventor certainly never could have anticipated that his audio-recording experiments in a Washington, D.C., lab could be recovered 130 years later and played for a gathering of scientists, curators and journalists.

"To be or not to be..." a man's voice can be heard saying in one recording as it was played on a computer at the Library of Congress on Tuesday. The speaker from the 1880s recites a portion of Hamlet's Soliloquy as a green wax disc crackles to life from computer speakers.

The early audio recordings — which revealed recitations of Shakespeare, numbers and other familiar lines — had been packed away and deemed obsolete at the Smithsonian Institution for more than a century. But new technology has allowed them to be recovered and played.

The technology reads the sound from tiny grooves with light and a 3D camera.

The recordings offer a glimpse into the dawn of the information age, when inventors were scrambling to make new discoveries and secure patents for the first telephones and phonographs, even early fiber optics.

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