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1922 __ How opera is broadcasted
Comment : “Difficulties that must be overcome in order to obtain the best results. How singers must be especially drilled and grouped, and how the opera must be revised, interpreted, and visualized to make up for the lack of action, costumes, ans scenery. Artists are put in a musical strait jacket. Moving, whispering, even deep breathing a crime.If there is a sixth sense, it must be that undefinable thing called “sensation” for which the modern public seeks in every department of daily life, and its latest form is radio. The present tremendous popularity of radio is due to its uncanny character, the unbelievable things which it accomplishes. It is, in truth, a novelty sensation. “The Choir Invisible”, “In Tune with the Infinite”, “The Voice of Nature”, “There’s Music in the Air” -- all heretofore poetic fancies -- are now real factors in our existence. If the world has gone daft over radio, it is because radio has brought us into closer relationship with one of nature’s great mysteries -- Ethereal Communication. [...] There are certain mechanical limitations associated with this new instrument of commmunication. Talking machine companies solved their problems by recognizing these limitations both as to sound volume and frequency of vibration, and accordingly they evolvef a recording technique which is almost perfect. The radio has just begun to feel its way, and no such technique has been developed but it is only a question of time before it will be perfected. The conspicuous facts are these: Radio fans who "listen in" know that phonograph records broadcast well, also solos, both vocal and instrumental. Duets, trios, quartets, choruses and operas reproduce less perfectly, owing to the fact that radio recording technique is in the experimental stage. Orchestras, bands, and large vocal bodies lose much of their detail in the ether. Volume is imperceptibly decreased, and words emitted by more than a single person are apt to become blurred and muffled. Yet, every problem has a solution, and one for this will undoubtedly emerge at a not too distant date. Performances of opera have been transmitted from the Berlin Opera House and the Chicago Opera House and heard at long distances, but the actual broadcasting of a complete opera was not undertaken until March I5th last when Mozart's "The Impresario" was presented at the WJZ station at Newark, N. J. The writer had the honor of being associated with this enterprise. As soon as the date had been fixed, William Wade Hinshaw, manager of the company and president of the Society of American Singers, assembled his forces, and, with a dummy microphone, practised broadcasting the opera in his New York studio. [...] Action, costumes, facial expression, entrances, exits all had to be abandoned. The music and the dialogue alone could be retained. The opera must be done with just these two factors. No scenery, no acting just song and speech. That was a job in itself, but the end justified the means. After the concrete materials had been properly adjusted to circumstances, another problem loomed up that of arranging the producing elements so as to secure the maximum tonal effect. This was accomplished by introducing a shifting process, each singer having a fixed position from which he moved forward, backward, and sidewise according to a prearranged scheme, precisely like a football line that opens and shuts and moves by a code of signals. This opera, having to deal with principals only and a pianist, presented no difficulties as to chorus or orchestra; therefore, as soon as the singers understood how and when to move, the hard work was done. At Newark [the WJZ broadcasting station], the recording took place in a small room, about 10 x 40 feet, on the second floor of the Westinghouse plant. At one end is a grand piano. On one side is the electrical apparatus which conveys the message to the amplifying station on the roof. On the opposite side is the switch and a set of headphones, also a phonograph and an orchestrelle. In the centre is the portable microphone into which the sound waves are directed. At the back of the room are chairs and tables for auditors and reporters. There have been several kinds of microphones employed a platter disc, a cup and a cylindrical tube. The last named was in use at this time. It is about six inches in diameter, lined with felt, and is suspended from an adjustable tripod. [...] Not only do the listeners experience a new sensation, but the performers also. To talk or sing or play to an invisible audience of unknown proportions is sufficient to make the most seasoned opera star or concert artist quake. A new experience a novel sensation, even to those who knew nought of awe or fear. [...] While vocal music carries better than instrumental music by radiophone, there is no occasion for dissonance, if the forces are properly adjusted, selected, and placed. But if the same grouping employed in concert and stage performances is adhered to, trouble is sure to follow. Adequately to broadcast an opera employing an orchestra, soloists, and chorus means a lot of hard thinking and much preliminary practice. With the present method, only a limited number of the sound waves from so large an assemblage will find their way into the microphone. Therefore we should retain only such a force as will meet the demands and eliminate the rest. The quandary then is how to ascertain which record and which do not. This problem can be solved only through experiment and practice. [...] However, as a result of these experiments, it is evident that not every form of opera can be presented by radio successfully. Mr. Hinshaw asserts that "the ultra-modern opera is an impossibility ... that one must choose a work that is melodious and in which solo voices do the greater part of the singing." I am not convinced as to the last statement. I think duets, trios, quartets, and other combinations, even choruses, are capable of being successfully broadcasted, just as they are successfully reproduced on the phonograph. It all depends upon how thoroughly the problem is studied and how well it is solved. Mr. Hinshaw says further that a Wagner opera could not be produced successfully, and that the best of all for radio are those of the classic style, and particularly the works of Mozart. To-day, that is true; to-morrow, it may not be true. I would not go so far as to assert that all modern opera is impossible for radio presentation. Anyone who has been associated with broadcasting music readily realizes that such an enterprise requires much more careful preparation and training than do concert and stage productions. The singers have only their voices with which to convey the tonal message; therefore they have to sing well and invest their song with all that the eye can not see. That is the huge and difficult task that makes radio opera such a hazardous and precarious undertaking under present conditions. Stringed instruments, by reason of their inferior potency as wave generators, must always be close to the microphone, just as they are placed closest to the horn during the process of making a phonograph record. Before it was possible to obtain a good tonal balance of orchestral instruments for phonograph records, much experimenting had to be done. The same thing is true of radio broadcasting. A brass band where all the instruments are of the same timbre will sound very well via radio, likewise a chorus, but when two or more dis- similar elements are broadcasted simultaneously, it is highly important that they be placed in the most advantageous positions. Violin and piano, voice and piano, two voices, an instrumental trio or quartet, an accompanied chorus, an orchestra all these offer problems which must be solved before such combinations can be broadcasted in a manner to give complete satisfaction to the listener. A viofin string is rubbed with a bow, while the piano's strings are struck by hammers. The tones are different and so are the sound waves produced both as to strength and character. The weaker ones must be closer and the stronger farther from the recorder. Moreover, as men's voices carry better than women's because they are deeper and consequently have fewer vibrations per second it is advisable to place the women nearer the microphone in ensembles. Just how far from the recorder each should be placed is a matter of careful experiment. The same rule holds good for the voice and piano and all other dissimilar combinations. When the programmes announcing celebrated artists were first made public, they created a widespread demand for receiving sets, for there were thousands who had never these artists and others who wanted to hear fine voices and players by radio. There is a rush for bookings and talent from which to choose was plentiful. But now the novelty has worn off. The best artists refuse to appear or to repeat; managers and associations are inserting a clause in their contracts prohibiting artists from giving radio recitals without remuneration. That is right. Why should artists give their services for this kind of work, which is not charitable, but solely for the benefit of the companies who sell radio receiving sets? Artists get some publicity, naturally, but it soon expires in the rush of events. What is the future of radio opera, and indeed of radio music in general? It all depends upon how far the broadcasting companies are willing to cooperate with artists and musical organizations. So long as the programmes were good, and so long as leading artists were willing to appear thereon, the sale of sets mounted enormously. But what about the present situation? It is evident that unless the former high standards of excellence are maintained, radio fans will register a vociferous protest. [...] All the world wants music. The easiest and cheapest way to get it is by means of the radio telephone which affords opportunities to a vast multitude of persons who otherwise would be unable to hear any. The man in the lighthouse, the farmer in his kitchen, the lumberman in his shack, the traveler at sea, literally thousands of persons hitherto isolated, are now able to relieve the monotony of their existence by introducing culture and entertainment into it by means of radio-telephony. Music is no longer confined within the four walls of concert halls and opera houses. Radio-telephony has freed the captive bird from its prison, and it is now at liberty to soar and to sing for all who may care to hear.”. (C.E. Le Massena, In“RADIO BROADCAST”, Vol. I, MAY, 1922, to OCTOBER, 1922, Garden City, N. Y., DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY, 1922, pp. 285-293)
Urls : http://www.archive.org/stream/radiobroadcast01gardrich/%23page/284/mode/2up (last visited )

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