A Beer Bottle Gets Turned Into a 19th Century Edison Cylinder and Plays Fine Music

The long and cozy relationship between alcohol and music is well-documented—in song. Did George Jones ever sing about anything else?

But until now there’s never been so literal a partnership as the one between Beck’s beer and the New Zealand pop band Ghost Wave.

This spring, the band won a contest at the heart of Beck’s advertising campaign, “Music Inspires Art.” The prize: a Ghost Wave label on beer bottles throughout New Zealand. Last month came a second prize. In the spirit of Thomas Edison’s famous recording cylinders, Beck’s produced an old-school recording of a Ghost Wave track directly onto a green glass bottle.

The audio quality is surprisingly good. You’ve probably heard the crackly recordings of Tchaikovsky’s voice recorded on an early Edison cylinder. You may have even heard the (much more recent) single that Suzanne Vega produced in cylinder format.

For the beer-bottle recording, Beck’s enlisted the help of Auckland-based special effects firm Gyros Constructivists to build an industrial strength record-cutting lathe. The technology used for earlier cylinders didn’t work because the Ghost Wave track, like most modern music, features so much bass that the cutting tool kept hopping out of the groove. The Gyros lathe used a hard drive recording head to cut into the glass.

The bottle track ultimately played on a reverse-engineered cylinder player, made with modern materials and fine-tuned with software to remove motor hum.

Edison invented the phonograph cylinder in 1877. In an early recording, he captured his own voice reciting a children’s nursery rhyme. Edison’s initial prototype used tinfoil wrapped around a hand-cranked cylinder, but that proved to be too delicate for everyday use. He changed the material to wax, which also wore out after repeated use, and eventually replaced that with plastic celluloid.

Now what would George Jones have said about that?

Related Content:

Thomas Edison Recites “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in Early Voice Recording

Thomas Edison’s 1889 Recording of Otto von Bismarck‎ Discovered

Tchaikovsky’s Voice Captured on an Edison Cylinder (1890)

Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Visit her website, katerixwriter.com, and follow her on Twitter, @mskaterix.


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