Talks about our first talking film

Last year’s issue of C-U Confidential concluded with a short anecdote on the late University of Illinois electrical engineering professor Joseph Tykocinski-Tykociner and his near-forgotten achievement in mating photographed sequential images with synchronized audio. The piece was timed to appear near the 90th anniversary of his invention’s demonstration on campus and as a postscript to the Tykociner presentation offered by UIUC media librarian Zak Boerger at the third New Art Film Festival. Part of Boerger’s preparation involved creating a digital copy of the innovator’s film tests from an older archival tape for the NAFF’s audience to see and, more importantly, hear.

We recently discovered the UIUC Library has made the tests available as streaming video which gives us an opportunity to examine movie history and also incentive to learn more about its significance. Here is a Tykociner text biography compiled by university archivists in February, incorporating said video at its conclusion. The transfer is highly imperfect given the age of the Beta tape from which it is sourced as well as the original element, a 1954 film dupe of the 1922 tests. Historians and techies interested in the path traveled by the material should review this UIUC Archives holdings page.

Easier listening is a vintage audio program uploaded by WILL/Illinois Public Media and produced in 1952 by UIUC on the occasion of their 83rd anniversary that highlights Tykociner’s tests. Look under the header “Illinois Technology, Applied” here for context, or here for streaming audio of the show in two parts. From the seven-minute mark to about 12:30 of part one, Professor Tykociner himself talks about his sound-on-film methodology while voice actors recreate his demonstration, portraying a younger Tykociner as well as his wife and colleagues as they appeared in the tests.

Finally, we direct your attention to an article published early last month in Inside Illinois, a faculty and staff paper issued by the UIUC News Bureau, discussing librarians’ ongoing survey of media materials stored in the UIUC Library holdings and scattered about various departments. As cautioned by Boerger during his Tykociner presentation at the NAFF and reflected by several UI professionals quoted here, the university – let alone modern society – needs to better manage what its members create lest we lose evidence of our history and progress to physical media decay or digital instability.

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. We’re not sure how this person managed to share the Tykociner tests on YouTube, but until further notice we’ll include it as a bonus for those dearest readers who flatter us by paying attention to every word we post!

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