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1924 __ The development of electrical recording
Comment : Joseph Maxfield of Western Electric records a radio broadcast carried over telephone lines. (Library and Archives Canada - Canadian Historical Sound Recordings)Electrical recording was developed by Western Electric, although a primitive electrical process was developed by Orlando R. Marsh, owner and founder of Autograph Records. Western Electric demonstrated their process to record manufacturers, who were initially loathe to adopt it because they realized it would make their entire existing catalog obsolete. Under pressure from the new medium of radio, however, Victor and Columbia gave in and began making experimental electrical recordings in 1924 (Millard, Andre 1995, “America on Record: A History of Recorded Sound”, Cambridge University Press, pp. 142-143). The design of the Orthophonic was informed by progress in telephony and transmission-line theory. It was developed by two Western Electric researchers, Joseph Maxfield and H. Harrison. Early electrical recordings sounded harsh when played on the acoustic phonographs of the day, which had been designed by trial and error, had highly "colored" frequency response, and emphasized higher frequencies. The researchers invented the exponential horn, and, on realizing that it needed to be nine feet long to reproduce the lowest frequencies on the new discs, designed a method for "folding" the horn into a cabinet of practical size. The design was released by Victor as the "Orthophonic." Its first public demonstration was front-page news in The New York Times, which reported that “The audience broke into applause... John Philip Sousa [said] "Gentlemen [sic], that is a band. This is the first time I have ever heard music with any soul to it produced by a mechanical talking machine." ... The new instrument is a feat of mathematics and physics. It is not the result of innumerable experiments, but was worked out on paper in advance of being built in the laboratory.... The new machine has a range of from 100 to 5,000 frequencies[sic], or five and a half octaves.... The "phonograph tone" is eliminated by the new recording and reproducing process” ("New Music Machine Thrills All Hearers At First Test Here." The New York Times, October 7, 1925, p. 1). An October 31, 1925 Wanamaker's ad invited people to come to "Wanamaker's Salon of Music" and "join the throngs" who were "HEARING the new Victor Orthophonic Victrola . . . . imagining performers present . . . . blinking unbelieving eyes" and promising "you will never forget it if you live to be one hundred!" (The New York Times, October 31, 1925, p. 18). A historian comments that “playing one of the new records on an Orthophonic was a revelation to listeners accustomed to acoustic reproduction: the dramatic increase in volume, the clear sibilants, and, most of all, the amazing reproduction of bass notes. The Orthophonics set the standard in sound reproduction. Backed by advertising which rightly claimed that their sound was vastly superior to any other machine, they sold very well [...] The Western Electric researchers began to make experimental recordings in 1920. Like Edison's experimenters in the 1880s, they brought musicians to the laboratory to record them. They also gave considerable thought to the chemical basis of the recording medium and to the acoustics of the studio. They visited the studios of phonograph companies and talked with their engineers about their experiences in studio recording. In 1922 they achieved recordings good enough to invite prominent members of the talking-machine industry to listen to their work : Emile Berliner visited the lab, as did Walter Miller, Edison's recording chief. By 1924 the system was far enough advanced to take to the recording studios of the Victor and Columbia companies and cut some demnostration records. The executives of the Big Three companies were impressed but not impressed enough to immediately acquire the new technology. Their attention was on the radio threat, and they were loathe to abandon the old system and a massive inventory of acoustic machines and recordings. Yet times were bad and getting worse; radio cut even further into the audience of the Big Three during 1924. Victor and Columbia capitulated and installed the new equipment in their studios to make test recordings. The first were made in Columbia's New York recording laboratory in 1924 by Sam Watkins, a Western Electric engineer. Joseph Maxfield supervised the recordings made in Victor's Camdem studios in 1925. This was a time of experimentation, and much of it was trial and error as the equipment was adapted for commercial use. Watkins operated the electrical recorder in the Columbia recording sessons, and it performed well enough to be permanently installed. When Bessie Smith came to Columbia's New York studios in 1925, she found she had to sing into a Western Electric microphone instead of the old recording horn. A new era in recording had begun.The results of the first electrical recordings were impressive : the records captured a much wider range of the sound of music, and the overall sound quality benefitted from more control over the loudness of each sound. Altough it was possible to play an electrically recorded disc on an acoustic machine, it often sounded too loud and strident when compared with the old records. Maxfield and Harrison designed a new acoustic machine to complement the increased volume and frequency range of electrically recorded discs.”. (Millard, Andre 1995, “America on Record: A History of Recorded Sound”, Cambridge University Press, pp. 142-143.)
French comment : Joseph Maxfield de la Western Electric enregistre une radiodiffusion transmise par lignes téléphoniques. (Library and Archives Canada - Canadian Historical Sound Recordings)
Urls : http://www.lac-bac.gc.ca/gramophone/m2-3008-e.html (last visited ) http://users.swing.be/beckerp/disque.htm (last visited )

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