History of Sound Recording by William Ferguson

History of Sound Recording by William Ferguson

History of Sound Recording

by William Ferguson

presented to the Leigh Local History Society November 1993

[Opening audio clip. Lancashire dialect item. Nellie Gough reading 'Th'owd Mans Gowd']

I am going to trace the exciting story of sound recording from 1876 to 1956. The beginning is Edison's invention and the end is the introduction of stereophonic sound.

To begin in the Leigh Journal 's newspaper archive for 1891 is an account of the February 9 meeting of Leigh Literary Society. Members of the general public attended. The guest speaker was Mr. Lynd. He had been invited by Mr. Freeman, the General President of the society to give a lecture about a new invention. This was the Edison Phonograph, which he was also to demonstrate.

[Newspaper clippings: February 1891, 13 February 1891, 10 April 1891]

His lecture began with an explanation of how the machine worked. Not only did the machine play records but it also could record. On that February night history would be made in Leigh. W. Freeman was the first person in the town to make a sound recording when he recorded his voice. I have not been able to determine if it still exists.

What an evening it was. The best part of the lecture came when many of the phonographs were played. Lynd said the following were the benefits of the phonograph: Home Entertainment. Writing would become redundant because people would speak their letters Dictating business and love letters. Medical purposes. Recording the sound of the heart and breathing for diagnoses. Recording for posterity.

[Recording: Tyldesley Brass Band (Local interest)]

Year's before Edison's discovery Sir Francis Bacon in his book The New Atlantis wrote about sound houses that would be able to keep sounds forever. The desire to record the voice was there but the technology to do it had not been invented.

Not much happened until 1807. Thomas Young invented a machine that could record sound vibrations but not directly from the air. In 1856 came the invention by Scott de Martinviller. His phonoautogragh could record sound airborne sounds. We were half way there but the sounds could not be reproduced. In 1877 a Frenchman called Charles Croxin had an idea for a disc recording system but he could not build a machine to make it work. It seems we still lacked the technology.

Meanwhile in America at the Edison laboratory at Menlo Park Edison's technicians made the break through. The date was 16th November 1876. Work was going on to improve telegraphic equipment. This event was recreated in a Hollywood film in 1940. Spencer Tracy portrayed Edison.

[Video clip: Edison the Man]

Thomas Edison re-recorded his famous first words in a 1929 documentary. It was a nursery rhyme called 'Mary Had A Little Lamb.'

[Recording: Edison's Mary Had a Little Lamb]

Edison recorded on cylinders. In that same year another idea was developed. This was when Emile Berliner developed a recording a system in which the sound was recorded on a flat circular disc. He called it the gramophone.. By 1890 there would be three ways to record sound.. These were phonographs, gramophone and a magnetic recording system. A Dane called Valdemar Poulson invented this.

[Recording: George Formby Sr. British Music hall entertainer]

George Formby Senior had the chance to make a record. He could not quite make out what he was supposed to do. He talked and talked until the recording time was completed.

Edison's agent came over from America to market the machine in England. Colonel Gouraud was successful at persuading prominent people to make recordings of their voice.

[Recordings: Florence Nightingale, Trumpeter Landfrey Arthur Sullivan]

The prize birthday gift was an Edison phonograph. An 8-year-old boy called Ludivc Kock was given one. He took it into the garden and recorded a bird singing.

[Recording:1889 L. Kock Bird Song]

When I moved to Leigh I was told about Leigh's famous singer called Tom Burke. He made records and his singing can still be appreciated. His famous song was ' The Minstrel Boy.'

[Recording: Tom Burke]

[Recording: Northern Comedy by Robb Wilton]

In 1890 the Gramophone Company was formed to sell Berliner's discs. Fred Gaisberg was brought over from America to be in charge of the recording studio at Maiden Vale. The famous painting of Nipper gave the company their 'His Master's Voice' logo. Gaisberg was the first to record Caruso. The fee was -100. London did not want to pay this fee but Gaisberg went ahead anyway. His brother went to France during the First World War to record sounds of war. In the process he got gassed and suffered ill health from then on. Here is the recoding he made.

[Recording: First World War Gas Attack]

The way discs were recorded was called the acoustic method. It was not until the 1920's that this process was changed. It was by this method that R.E Peary recorded an account of his expedition to the North Pole. The recording was made in 1910.

[Recording: R.E Peary First to the North Pole]

Electrical Recording was introduced in the 1920's. Lional Guest and H. O. Merriman first used this system to record the 'Unknown warrior' ceremony on Armistice Day, 1920

[Recording: Silver Jubilee Thank Giving Service St. Paul's Cathedral, London]

The microphone now entered the recording studio but it was not the terror that Hollywood Actors would find it to be. The system could record more natural sound to be recorded.

[Recording: Dr. Howard Carter and Tutankhamun's Tomb being opened and trumpet]

It was much easier to manufacture gramophone discs and Berliner won the battle of the system. The phonograph became a Dictaphone and was only replaced by magnetic tape. Pat he' record's played from the centre to the edge but soon the standard was to record at 78 r.p.m. There had been attempts to make a long playing record but without success. After the Second World War advances were made and two speeds were developed. Single records 45 R.PM and L/P discs speed at 33 1/3.

[Recordings: Gracy Fields- How she became an entertainer; 1968 Record: George Formby Jr- His early life; Record The First Christmas Broadcast]

There were several experiments in the 1930's to find away to record sound in stereo. Much of the research was done at The EMI Laboratory at Hays Middlesex, Alan Blumlien. He developed a two-speaker system. There was also research being done at the Bell labs in America.

[Recording: Blumlien test recording]

The BBC release LP discs from time to time. The information comes from their sound archive. Record Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 1953

[Recording: Mrs Bernard James. Lord Kelvine]

Poulson had invented a magnetic recording system in 1899. This was a development, which radio stations would benefit most from. At first steel wire was used to make a recording. The Germen's perfected magnetic tape. The British composer called Sir Thomas Beecham made the first recording on magnetic tape. This machine allowed recordings to be made and it could also play pre-recorded tapes.

[Recording: Sir Thomas Beecham. First magnet tape recording]

[Recording: Bygone Sounds BBC disc]

In 1963 Phillips invented cassette tape. This made it possible for tape to become an alternative to the L.P. It was also the main way ordinary people recorded their home recordings.

To sum up the history of sound recording by letting you listen to this piece of music. It is Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March. It begins with an acoustic recording and the music contains in all its different sound recording methods.

[Recording: Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance]

revised 12/29/02 | Recording Technology History
AES - Audio Engineering Society