Funded! This project was successfully funded on October 5, 2012.

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A journey across America to record today’s musicians on 1930s technology in a quest to connect with the haunting recordings of the past

Making The 78 Project Feature-length Documentary Film with Your Help!

The 78 Project records musicians as they perform early American songs  - exactly as they were originally recorded, instantaneously onto 78rpm lacquer discs.  With one microphone, one 1930's Presto direct-to-acetate disk recorder, and one blank 78 record, artists have a chance to make a recording anywhere they choose.  It's a haunting, magical time travel experience when we play back our freshly cut acetate - we're hearing a sound almost a century old, but recorded only moments earlier.

Cutting a record in one take
Cutting a record in one take

The 78 Project began as an acclaimed series of web episodes, which we shot over the past year with generous and talented musicians in New York City.  Our feature-length film will take the energy of the series to exciting new places and people.

And we want you to join us!

Like Alan Lomax, the great field recordist and our inspiration (more about Lomax below), we're out to discover what it means to be American today and to explore the deep historical significance of American songs – from Blues, Bluegrass, Cowboy songs and Murder Ballads to Folk, Gospel, Country and Roots.

Listening back
Listening back

We'll visit modern musicians and local legends in their homes and hometown haunts, and we’ll tour the collections that hold our national musical treasures like the Alan Lomax Archives, the Library of Congress, the Southern Folklife Center, and the Smithsonian.

As we shoot the film we'll keep you updated with amazing stories, songs and video clips.  This is a film about the connections we find with each other through music, and we want you to share it with us as we make it.

Presto! Recording in One Take

The 78 Project film will be filled with beautiful one-take performances and it will take you behind the scenes, deep into the surprising – and sometimes terrifying – process of recording them on vintage equipment. And speaking of vintage equipment, have you met our Presto?? Our Presto direct-to-disc machine is a genuine, wild and magical piece of 1930’s history. Many of the most iconic field recordings from the 1930’s and ‘40’s were recorded on a Presto just like ours, including recordings of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie and Jelly Roll Morton. It uses one microphone to provide the signal to a ruby stylus (or needle), which physically carves a groove into a blank nitrocellulose lacquer disc. 

A diagram of the Presto...part troubleshooting, part more troubleshooting
A diagram of the Presto...part troubleshooting, part more troubleshooting

The Presto records at 78 rpm, which means we get just over 3 minutes of song per side of the record.  It’s a mad dash to get the whole song onto the surface of that platter as the needle races from edge to center, throwing up a kinky, out-of-control chip in its wake!

Lavinia sweats over the Presto while Alex captures the scene
Lavinia sweats over the Presto while Alex captures the scene

How We Work and What We Need

A little goes a long way at The 78 Project.  That is because we are a small, efficient, professional operation, and we conserve resources well.  We are just asking for the money we need to shoot The 78 Project feature film, to cover the cost of crew, equipment, insurance and transporting the production to the planned locations

Each dollar we raise beyond our goal will contribute to post-production.  It will pay for the editing, mixing and finishing of the film. 

Other Ways to Get Involved and Help The 78 Project

- First of all, thank you. You’re already supporting us by being here.

- Sign up for our email updates on our site so that we can keep you posted!

- If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, or you have a blog, email list, friends who would be interested in what we’re doing, please reach out. 

- Wave to us if we’re driving through your town.  And please, give us directions if we look lost!  Also, if you just baked a pie, we wouldn’t turn down an invitation.

About The 78 Project Web Series

Between September 2011 and June 2012, we gave 15 artists each one blank lacquer disc and the opportunity to make a one-take 78 rpm field recording anywhere they wanted to. We found ourselves in churches, hotels, apartments, gardens, bars and even a fishing club. The 78 Project has grown into a substantial, exciting, collaborative adventure.  Episodes and digitized audio from the acetates are streaming on our website now: www.the78project.com

When the Presto clicks on and the platter starts to spin, there is a moment where the whole room focuses in and everything becomes a part of the music; the radiator’s hiss is a harmony and the sounds of traffic below tune to a G so perfect you can check your strings against it. – Alex Steyermark and Lavinia Jones Wright, from The 78 Project web series

Some Press for The 78 Project:

Soundcheck WNYC / May 17, 2012
The 78 Project: A New Take on that Old Timey Sound

The New Yorker / April 9, 2012
Take One “Presto!” Talk of the Town p. 25

BBC News / May 11, 2012
78 Project replicates original vinyl recording style

Links to more press are on our website. http://the78project.com/press/

++ We are incredibly excited that The 78 Project will be showcased at IFP's prestigious Independent Film Week in September as part of its esteemed Project Forum in the Spotlight on Documentaries. ++

The Future of The 78 Project

Next year, when our Feature-length Documentary is edited and ready to screen at festivals, we will tour with our Prestos around the country and around the world, appearing at events and screenings to make miraculous recordings for you to see and hear.  We hope you will have a chance to see us in person and join in the process! 

Now that we've started, we can't imagine life without The 78 Project! So we’ll continue to make series of episodes as long as we possibly can.  Hopefully for years to come!

Lavinia and Alex prep the Presto for a shoot at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
Lavinia and Alex prep the Presto for a shoot at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

About Alan Lomax, The Great Field Recordist and Our Inspiration

The story of Alan Lomax is the story of America discovering itself.  Lomax devoted his life to capturing folklore and encouraging its appreciation as an art form.  Beginning in the 1930s and continuing on for more than 50 years, he logged countless miles down back roads and highways, venturing into penitentiaries, farms, private homes, concert halls and dance joints searching for the story of the human spirit told through song.  He captured thousands of audio recordings, hundreds of images and hours of film, which helped to develop the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk Song as a national resource.

Alan Lomax and Raphael Hurtault listening to playback La Plaine, Dominica      Antoinette Marchand/Association for Cultural Equity
Alan Lomax and Raphael Hurtault listening to playback La Plaine, Dominica Antoinette Marchand/Association for Cultural Equity

“What he was aiming for was a means of helping Americans redefine the country to themselves and to the world by means of performance.” - John Szwed, from his book, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World  

The Alan Lomax Archive Archives, The Association for Cultural Equity, The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and Folklife Center at the Smithsonian have been crucial advisers to The 78 Project.  If you have a moment, check them out and lend them your support, too!

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    Our deepest appreciation! We’ll put your name - any way you like - in the Thank You section on our website (unless you’d rather we didn’t.) **Contributors at all levels included.**

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    We’ll send you a Vintage Postcard from somewhere on our journey. A unique message from us to you on a beautiful vintage postcard, sent from the road. We’ll even customize it for a gift.

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    64 backers

    Ticket to a screening of the feature-length documentary. Come celebrate with us next summer, and see field recording on a big screen! New York, Los Angeles, Memphis and more cities TBA. -OR- A pre-release DVD of The 78 Project feature-length documentary.

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    One-of-a-kind Polaroid SX-70 photo from behind the scenes at a 78 Project shoot taken on our own original 1970s Polaroid camera. We won’t scan it or show it to anyone else.

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    Limited-edition screenprinted Stroboscopic Disc -OR- hand-printed T-shirt. Test your turntable in vintage style with our custom Stroboscopic Disc -OR- wear a classic image of our Presto. Both are designed and hand printed in Brooklyn.

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    A special set of memorabilia from The 78 Project. Includes the unique behind-the-scenes Polaroid, the vintage postcard from the road, our custom hand screened Stroboscopic disc, and we’ll include a surprise that we find for you on our travels!

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    A hand silkscreened Presto art poster featuring gorgeous schematic imagery from its operating manual, a vintage postcard from the road, and a ticket or DVD.

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    Hear your name recorded on an incredible-sounding 78 rpm disc while the film credits roll! Plus we’ll send you our neato Presto poster and a ticket to a screening of a pre-release DVD.

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    Actual test acetate from The 78 Project shoots! Your name on acetate in the film credits, a Presto poster, and a ticket or DVD. We’ve collected quite a few tester discs containing ten-second snippets of various artists and voices. They look cool with all those rings, and you can play them and try to guess which episodes they are from! Plus we’ll read your name on our end credits acetate for the feature-length film, and we’ll send you a Poster and a ticket to a screening or a DVD.

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    It’s your moment to make a 78 record in one take, just like the artists of The 78 Project. This acetate is yours to do with as you please, front and back. This is available in the New York area, LA area, over the phone, or in other areas if included in our travel schedule (contact to find out if we’ll be near your town.) This comes with your name in our film credits acetate, a Presto poster and a ticket to a screening or a DVD.

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    The 78 Project will DJ your party or event. You love the blues, folk, bluegrass, early rock & roll and soul, and so do we. Let’s talk about where and when. Plus we’ll read your name in our end credits acetate, send you a Presto poster and a ticket to a screening or a DVD of the film.

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    Let’s plan a screening so that you can watch The 78 Project feature-length documentary - that you helped to make - with your friends, family and colleagues! Where do you live? Maybe we can come! Plus we’ll read your name in the credits, send you a Presto poster, and make sure you get a DVD of the film.

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    Get the full experience of The 78 Project. It’ll be as wonderful and mesmerizing and rowdy and momentous as the shoots you’ve seen in our episodes and in the feature-length film. The 78 Project will DJ your party and we’ll bring our Presto along. Invite your friends to share in this once-in-a-lifetime evening! In addition, we’ll read your name in the film credits, send you a Presto poster, and make sure you get a DVD of the film.

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    Co-Executive Producer credit and privileges. Your contribution will make The 78 Project feature-length documentary possible, so we hope you can be by our sides at a film or music festival screening of your choice, including the premiere! You'll be guaranteed tickets, as long as you can arrange travel to get there. And we want you prominently listed as a co-Executive Producer on our website, in the film credits, everywhere. We’ll include a full set of The 78 Project memorabilia listed at all other levels, including making a recording of you or someone you know on acetate if you’d like.

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Funding period

- (30 days)