NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1890 __ The Gramophone
Emil Berliner (1859-1921)
Comment : “I start by further explaining here, that those remarks had reference to the fact that in the phonograph it was impossible to make a loud reproduction which at the same time would be natural in tone. So long as you confine yourself to the small telephone voice the sound is natural and very satisfactory, but as soon as you attempt to indent at greater depth the waves are distorted, and the sound becomes unnatural. In the gramophone, as you will further on see, and I suppose you are perfectly familiar with the principle, there is no indenting and no engraving, but there is a constant resistance, that of the light pressure of an elastic blade on a flat surface, or on a cylinder, if you please, but whatever resistance there may be in it, is constant. And that is the principal difference, speaking scientifically, between the phonograph and the gramophone, that in one you have a variable resistance, in the other a constant resistance. [...] The science of electricity almost began with the immersing of zinc in acid, but crude force alone is thereby set free, while in the gramophone, the action of the acid on the metal is so curbed and regulated that under it the zinc becomes a picture of sound-waves which, though slumbering in a bed of hard metal, is ready at any time, even centuries hence, to burst forth into the soft cadenzas of word and song, the ripple of laughter, the strains of martial music, as well as the melancholy and imploring drag of the organ-grinder's tuneful melody. The hydrogen which otherwise would be set free, is neutralized by the well-known depolarizer, chromic acid, and the carrier of the recorded sound-waves is so perfectly and yet so delicately insulated from the action of the acid, that a spiral of sound undulations 600 feet in length, could, without difficulty, be traced and etched on an 8-inch disc, and would represent when reproduced a continuous conversation lasting seven minutes; all this automatically, and with far greater facility than is possible in making a photograph picture. [...] This whole art is now manipulated with great certainty, and can be learned much easier than the art of photography. Yet, favorably as I believe the gramophone compares with other talking machines, it has barely entered upon the possibilities which lie dormant within its principles, only awaiting the touch of investigation to yield new and important scientific data. Its advantages at the present time can be summed up as follows: 1/ The records are durable, and require a minimum of space for storing. 2/ Recognition is perfect. 3/ The mechanism of the reproducing machine is a model of simplicity. 4/ The records can be printed, and from such prints copies can be made which will sound like the original. 5/ The quality of the sounds does not become impaired with increasing loudness. 6/ The making of copies is possible by several well-known methods in existing arts.”. (TRANSACTIONS OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS, VOL. VIII. DECEMBER 16th 1890)Phonographs and graphophones commercially available in the late 1880s and the 1890s used wax cylinders as their medium. Prerecorded cylinders could not be easily mass produced for commercial sale : since each machine could record onto only a single cylinder at a time, performers would have to repeat a performance several times, even when several machnes vere employed during a recording session. In retrospect, we can say that Emile Berliner’s gramophone, made public in 1888 and first marketed in 1895, chanfed all this. The gramophone is the direct ancestor of the phonographs most commonly used in the twentieth century : it uses a rotating flat disk on a horizontal plane. Berliner’s machine was considerably louder than its immediate predecessors, but one of its mots important differences was that its diks were reproduced through a “stamping” process and, therefore, easily mass produced. The making of a master disk for stamping, however, was somewhat complicated and labor-intensive, involved etching and acid baths for the first copy and rhe matrix that would be used to stamp subsequent copies. As a result, gramophone records were easier to mass produce but much harder for people to make in their own homes. (Jonathan Sterne, pp. 203-204)On 3 December 1877, the evening before constructing the first phonograph, Thomas Edison and his assistants sketched out three possible recording formats. These were a continuous strip (similar in concept to a tape cassette), a cylinder, and a disc. Edison selected the drawing of the cylinder machine. Despite his eventual entry into the world of disc recording, the cylinder remained Edison’s preferred format until his retirement from the record business in 1929. Emile Berliner’s work progressed in the opposite direction. Berliner invented the gramophone, the disc playing machine that ultimately triumphed over Edison’s phonograph. His discs are the precursors to the shellac and vinyl records that dominated music production in the twentieth century. However, his original US gramophone patent, dated 8 November 1887, mentions ‘a groove wave-line upon a strip or sheet’, and his accompanying drawing is of a cylinder. (Emile Berliner, Gramophone: Specification forming part of Letters Patent, No. 372,786, 8 November 1887. Reproduced on the Library of Congress, Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry website: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/berlhtml/berlhome.html). Berliner, at this point, was creating recordings by a method of photoengraving. This involved a complicated process of splitting and flattening cylinders (See, Peter Ford, ‘History of Sound Recording: The Age of Empiricism (1877-1924), in Recorded Sound, Vol. 1, Nos 1-8, No. 7, 221-29 (p. 225); and V. K. Chew, Talking Machines (London Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1981), p. 17.). It became apparent that a flat disc provided a more suitable and workable format; before the year was out, the disc was adopted for Berliner’s machines. Despite continual modification of his recording process there is no evidence that he ever reconsidered the use of the cylinder. (Richard Osborne, “The Disc v the Cylinder”)
Original excerpt : « Those having one [a gramophone], may then buy an assortment of phonautograms, to be increased occasionnaly, comprising recitations, songs, and instrumental solos and orchestral pieces of every variety. In each city there will be at least one office having a gramophone recorder with all the necessary outfits. There will be an acoustic cabinet, or acousticon, containing a very large funnel or other sound concentrator, the narrow end of which ends in a tube leading to the recording diaphragm. At the wide opening of the funnel will be placed a piano, and back of it a semicircular wall for reflecting the sound into the funnel. Persons desirous of having their voice taken mil step before the funnel and, upon a given signal, sing or speak, or they may perform upon an instrument. While they are waiting the plate will be developed, and when it is satisfactory, it is turned over to the electrotyper or to the molder in charge, who will make as many copies as desired. [...] There is another process which may be employed. Supposing his Holiness, the Pope, should desire to send broadcast a pontifical blessing to his millions of believers, he may speak into the recorder, and the plate then, after his words are etched, is turned over to a plate-printer, who may, whithin a few hours, print thousands of phonoautograms on translucent tracing paper. The printed phonoautogram are then sent to the principal cities in the world, and upon arrival they are photo-engraved by simply using them as photograph positives. The resultant engraved plate is then copied, “ad infinitum”, by electrotyping, or glass moulding, and sold to those having standard reproducers. [...] Prominent singers, speakers or performers may derive an income from royalties on the sale of their phonautograms, and valuable plates may be printed and registered to protect against unauthorized publication. Collections of phonautograms may become very valuable, and whole evenings will be spent at home going through a long list of interesting performances. Who will deny the beneficial influence which civilization will experience when the voices of dear relatives and friends long departed, the utterances of the great men and women who lived centuries before, the radiant songs of Patti, Campanini, and others, the dramatic voices of Booth, Irving and Bernhardt, and the humor of Nye and Riley can be heard and reheard in every Avell-furnished parlor. Last wills can be registered with the testators' own voices, and important testimony can be sent from afar and read in court, and the voice so produced can be testified to by friends present. Languages can be taught by having a good elocutionist speak classical recitations, and sell copies of his voice to students. In this department alone, and that of teaching elocution generally, an immense field is to be filled by the gramophone. Addresses.congratulatory, political or otherwise.can be delivered by proxy so loudly that the audience will be almost as if conscious of the speaker's presence. A singer unable to appear at a concert may send lier voice and be represented as per program, and conventions will listen to distant sympathizers, be they thousands of miles away. Future generations mil be able to condense within the space of twenty minutes a tone picture of a single lifetime. Five minutes of a child's prattle, five of the boy's exultations, five of the man's reflections, and five from the feeble utterances from the death-bed. Will it not be like holding communion even with immortality?. » (Emile Berliner, ‘The Gramophone Etching the Human Voice’, Emile Berliner, “The Gramophone: Etching the Human Voice”, Journal of the Franklin. Institute of the State of Pennsylvania, Vol. CXXV., No. 6, June 1888, p. 20. Reproduced on the Library of)
Source : Sterne, Jonathan (2003), “The Audible Past - Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction”, Durham & London : Duke University Press, pp. 203-204.
Urls : http://members.lycos.co.uk/MikePenney/berliner.htm (last visited ) http://www.artofrecordproduction.com/content/view/189/51/ (last visited ) http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/berlhtml/berlhome.html (last visited ) http://www.archive.org/stream/emileberlinermak00wile/emileberlinermak00wile_djvu.txt (last visited )

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