Recordings of my grandmother

Almost 100 years ago, the folklorist Frank Clyde Brown made wax-cylinder recordings of examples of North Carolina folk music. Among these recordings are six songs sung by my grandmother Aura Holton (later Aura Godard). The recordings are part of the Duke University library collection. My brother Andy created this video containing the recordings and some background information.

The sound quality on these recordings is terrible, mostly because they’re century-old wax-cylinder recordings, but also because Brown had the habit of shaving down and reusing his wax cylinders. (The incredibly helpful librarians at Duke pointed me to an exchange of letters between Brown and a fellow folklorist who decried this practice.) As someone who likes to play around with data, I thought I’d see if I could clean them up a little.

Here’s the unfiltered original of one of the songs:

Here are five attempts I made to clean this up. I’ll tell you what I did if you’re dying to know, but for the moment I have my reasons for not going into that.


Version 1:


Version 2:


Version 3:


Version 4:


Version 5:


I’d love to know which of these sounds best (or rather, least bad — they’re all terrible!). If you have an opinion, please let me know at this survey.

(Annoyingly, UR’s WordPress configuration doesn’t seem to allow me to embed a survey in this post. It also wouldn’t let me upload WAV files, so these are all MP3s. I don’t think that the MP3 compression made much difference to the sound quality.)



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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!