Bishop Museum Tries To Revive Past King's Voice

Published On: Nov 24 2009 09:31:41 PM HST   Updated On: Nov 25 2009 01:56:40 AM HST

Six months ago Bishop Museum launched an effort to bring back a voice from the past.

More information was released about the condition of King David Kalakaua's voice on a wax cylinder recorded more than 100 years ago.

Museum officials have been careful not to raise hopes about what could be heard only to have them dashed.

A fragile recording on a relic has been digitized in part by Hawaiian Airlines, the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory and Institute of Museum and Library Studies.

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Desoto Brown, with Bishop Museum, recalled what it was like listening to the faint recording.

"You are concentrating, listening to this repeatedly trying to pick out to recognize words through the scratchiness -- a faint human voice that might be coming through and you close your eyes trying to hear it," Brown said.

King David Kalakaua was on his deathbed in San Francisco when the historic recording was made by a representative of the Thomas Edison Company.

"There is one newspaper account that says Louis Glass spoke first on the recording. We think that's what we hear first and that's the more distinct speech," Brown said. "After that, there appears to be another batch of speech but all you can hear are one or two single syllables like, 'Ah,' and that's it."

Those digital files now have to go to another sound restoration specialist or maybe more.

"We don't know how much more speech is still in there that can be extracted," Brown said. "So that's what will have to happen now. We may have to go to one other person who can continue to work on this project in hopes we can hear more."

Kalakaua died shortly after making the recording.

Hawaii mourned his death so long ago and to think that the king who loved inventions could only see how much closer technology has reconnected him with his beloved isles Somehow just getting this far is in Desoto' Brown's mind is nothing short of incredible.

"We can't say with certainty how far we will get or what we will eventually hear," Brown said.

It may be the tiniest whisper of the past, but it's now the past preserved.

Coincidently Kalakaua made national news on Tuesday. USA noted he was the guest of honor at a state dinner at the White House.


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