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, , and fol­low her on Twit­ter, @mskaterix.

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