Monday, July 12, 2004

Why I read Physics Today

As a member of the Acoustical Society of America, I receive Physics Today in both electronic and print formats. Every two months or so an article appears related to my field, and thus that I can actually understand. In today's issue, there is an article on how particle physics is being used to restore old recordings.

Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had developed a system for finding elementary particle tracks within noisy high energy data sets, solely using optics guided by pattern recognition algorithms and noise suppression. They have converted this method to read old records, wax cylinders, and metal Edison recordings, taking pictures of each segment of the recorded track and removing any distortions from warping or scratches. The pictures are then converted to audio signals. The benefit of this system (which currently takes 40 minutes to scan 1 second of music) is that it doesn't further degrade the original record, as a stylus or laser would.

Audio remastering had been previously advanced by the use of the Wavelet Transform as a pattern recognition tool, used by researchers at Yale to clean up a wax recording of Brahms playing his own piano music. It's about time physicists find something useful to do!

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