NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1940 __ Magnetic tape - World War II
Comment : [...] But reaching beyond the acoustic experiences of the so-called general public, the magnetic tape also revolutionized secret transmissions. According to Pynchon, "operators swear they can tell the individual sending-hands." As a consequence, the Abwehr as part of the German Army High Command had the `handwriting' of every single agent recorded at the Wohldorf radio station close to Hamburg before they went abroad on their secret missions. Only magnetic tapes guaranteed to Canaris and his men that it "was really their agent sitting at the other end and not an enemy operator." Inspired by this success, the Abwehr switched from defence to offense. Because the enemy was not yet in possession of magnetic tapes, the Abwehr was in a position to transmit its famous Funkspiele (radio games), which in spite of their name did not result in entertaining millions in front of speakers, but in the death of 50 British agents. The Abwehr managed to capture and turn around agents who had parachuted into the Netherlands. As if nothing had happened, they were forced to continue their transmissions in their own handwriting. The transmission of German Funkspiel messages to London (or, in one parallel case, to Moscow) lured additional agents into the Abwehr trap. Normally, intelligence agencies arrange emergency signals with their agents for such situations, "such as using an old code, making absurd mistakes, or inserting or emitting certain letters of punctuation." Each Morse message of the converted agents was taped, analysed and, if need be, manipulated, before it was transmitted. This procedure continued uninterrupted for years in the hardly civilian ether. The world war audio tape inaugurated the musical-acoustic present. Beyond storage and transmission, gramophone and radio, it created empires of simulation. In England, Turing himself considered using a captured German Magnetophone as the storage mechanism for his projected large computer. Like the paper strip of the Universal Discrete Machine, tapes can execute any possible manipulation of data because they are equipped with recording, reading and erasing heads as well as with forward and reverse motion. [...] In a far more practical vein, captured magnetic tapes aroused sleepy US electric and music giants which had, naturally, taken on other than commercial duties between 1942 and 1945. Inserted into the signal path, audio tapes modernized sound production, by replacing gramophones they modernized sound distribution. Tape decks made music consumers mobile, indeed automobile, as did the radio producers in the Magnetophone-equipped German lead tanks of old. Thus, the "American mass market" was "opened up" by "the car playback system." In order to minimize the leadership vacuum and exploit the possibilities of stereophony, the only things missing were new VHF stations with rock'n'roll and traffic reports on the transmitting and car radios with FM and decoders on the receiving end. Six-cylinder engines whisper, but the stereo equipment roars. Engine and radio are (to paraphrase Guderian/Nehring) also the soul of our tourist divisions, which under so-called postwar conditions rehearse or simulate the blitzkrieg. The central command, however, has moved from general staffs to engineers. Sound reproduction revolutionized by magnetic tape has rendered orders unnecessary. Storing, erasing, sampling, fast-forwarding, rewinding, editing--inserting tapes into the signal path leading from the microphone to the master disc made manipulation itself possible. Ever since the combat reports of Nazi radio, even live broadcasts have not been live. The delay, which in the case of tapes is due to separate head monitoring (and which is now more elegantly achieved by digital shift registers), suffices for so-called Broadcast Obscenity Policing Lines. It appears that listeners, once they have been called by a disc jockey and are on the air, are prone to exhibit an unquenchable desire for obscenities. Today everybody can and (according to Andy Warhol) wants to become famous, if only for two minutes of air time. In the blind time which media, as opposed to artists, are subject to, chance is principally unpredictable. But the 6.4 seconds of dead time the Broadcast Obscenity Policing Line inserts between telephone call and actual broadcast make censorship (if not art) possible in the data flow of the real. (Friedrich Kittler)
French comment : La guerre arrive et l’invention est utilisée avant tout dans un but tactique, tout à la fois par la Gestapo pour espionner et crypter les messages, et par la Radio Allemande (Reichs Rundfunks Gesellschaft) qui, à partir de 1942 enregistre tous ses concerts sur bande magnétique pour soutenir le moral de la population. Les performances de ces premiers magnétophones sont bien supérieures à celles du 78 tours : bande passante de 50 à 10 000 Hz, 60 dB de dynamique, moins de 1,5% de distorsion : un son déjà proche des standards de la Hi-Fi. Les ingénieurs du son font mêmes quelques essais d’enregistrement stéréophonique. En Angleterre, la Royal Navy commande à DECCA un système d’écoute suffisamment précis pour capter le bruit des moteurs des sous-marins allemands. Les ingénieurs du son perfectionnent alors micros et électroniques. De là naîtra le Full Frequency Recording, c’est à dire l’enregistrement haute-fidélité, appliqué après-guerre aux derniers 78 tours, qui ont une bande passante pouvant s’étaler de 16 à 20 000Hz. L’enregistrement sur bande magnétique, qui permet de réaliser des montages alors que la gravure directe des 78 tours n’autorisait aucune correction, se répand dans les studios à partir de 1950, grâce à la copie américaine des magnétophones allemands confisqués à la fin de la guerre, les Ampex. Mais ses avantages, comme la haute fidélité, ne peuvent être exploités qu’avec un nouveau support, c’est le microsillon, fabriqué commercialement en 1948. Avec un sillon trois fois plus fin que celui du 78 tours, il permet une durée de 20 à 30 minutes par face au lieu de 3 à 4′30 maximum. Fabriqué en PVC, il est aussi nettement moins bruyant que les disques en gomme-laque (5,6 fois plus de dynamique). Les derniers 78 tours sont fabriqués en 1956. Avec le nouveau support magnétique, il est plus facile de réaliser des enregistrements stéréophoniques (d’abord en synchronisant deux machines, puis en divisant la largeur de la bande en deux et en utilisant deux têtes séparées) et les essais sur la stéréo reprennent aux USA à partir de 1952. En 1954, sont réalisés les premiers enregistrements stéréophoniques commerciaux (le premier: Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra de Richard Strauss par Fritz Reiner, enregistré avec deux micros Neumann et un magnétophone Ampex), d’abord vendus sous forme de bandes magnétiques, les premiers disques stéréophoniques n’apparaissant sur le marché qu’en 1957. En 1970 la quadriphonie, lointain ancêtre du 5.1, fait une brève apparition, mais c’est un échec commercial complet. En fait, dès l’apparition de l’enregistrement stéréophonique, les principes modernes de la prise de son étaient inventés, les progrès suivants n’étant que des améliorations du système original. (Compiled from various sources)
Source : Kittler, Friedrich A. (1986), “Grammophon Film Typewriter”, Berlin: Brinkmann & Bose; and also, “Gramophone, Film, Typewriter”, translated by Geoff Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Urls : http://www.stanford.edu/class/history34q/readings/Kittler/GramFilmTypwriter/Kittler_Gramophone.html (last visited ) http://blog.bnf.fr/voix/index.php/2009/03/02/enregistrement-magnetique/ (last visited )

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