Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Goodnight I.R.E.N.E.

By now we've all ready about lazer turntables. They're very nifty but in costing tens of thousands of dollars they end up in the realm of flying cars, jet packs and other things we will never be able to own. This turntable, named IRENE is something entirely different.

The presentation of the name all in capitals indicates it's an acronym (or bacronym)  Somtimes on the dot gov site it's even presented as I.R.E.N.E.  It stands for Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc. Following that theme, the test record the Library of Congress samples to display he fucntion of IRENE is a 1950s 78 "Goodnight Irene" performed by the Weavers. More here and here.

This turntable is barely a turntable. This turntable doesn't even turn, it doesn't spin the record. It doesn't even have a needle or anything I'd call a tone arm.  Instead, it operates optically, not with a lazer but with a camera. It captures 2 dimensional images record grooves making a map of the entire groove surface. Software then uses that data to reconstruct the sound. When a fleck of lint might make a traditional record "pop" or a scratch cause it to skip, IRENE reads right over it and lets the software reconstruct the best possible sound. It can even play broken records. the best part is that since it doesn't touch the record, it does not contribute to further wear leaving the best possible master for future attempts at playback.
It's inventor, Peter Alyea, described it thus: "It's like a photocopy machine for sound. It brings the possibility of automation much closer to reality for these kinds of materials."  IRENE actually can transfer a disc faster than a traditional turntable. The process of extrapolating a three-dimensional image from the 2-D image has improved dramatically since IRENE began. they began first with cylinders but now can also process Dicta-belts, and 78s. More here.