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Historians strive to save old sounds

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David Levine's iPod is filled with exactly 4,768 songs, including a handful of tunes by turn-of-the-century pop stars with names like Anna Chandler, Will F. Denny, and Harry Lauder.

If they don't sound familiar, don't worry. You're not out of touch. The fact is that these singers haven't been big for about 100 years.

Mr. Levine and other music fans are listening to long-forgotten pop music - along with 1900-era performances and speeches - thanks to a landmark effort to preserve audio of the past.

With the help of donations from collectors, the University of California at Santa Barbara has digitized songs and spoken-word performances from more than 6,000 cylinders, the early precursors of vinyl records and compact discs.

Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can visit the university's website and listen to the audio for free; downloads are also available, allowing curious visitors like Levine to store the songs and listen to them as they jog, drive, or wait in line at the airport.

"To be able to sit back and listen to this stuff on an iPod, that's just a lot of fun," says Levine, a fellow at Stanford University. His tastes usually run to "modern" artists like The Band and Miles Davis.

Visitors to the website can listen to everything from minstrel and banjo music to speeches and readings by luminaries such as actress Sarah Bernhardt, Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, and a surprisingly high-pitched Theodore Roosevelt.

David Seubert, a curator who manages the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project, expected there would be some interest in the old songs, which had been "totally inaccessible." But the enthusiastic response has surprised him: since the cylinder music website appeared in November, its pages have been viewed more than 4.5 million times.


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