About this project
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
- 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!
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.
“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!
We love that you want to contribute to the future of The 78 Project movie! You can go to the Feature Film page on our website to find out ways that you can donate to continue to support the project.
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