Meeting Topic: An Old Fashioned Edison Recording Session
Moderator Name: John Krivit
Speaker Name: Gerald Fabris, Curator, Edison Historic Site
Meeting Location: Rabb Hall, Boston Public Library, USA
On Tuesday February 2, 400 recording fans gathered to witness a recording session done the old-fashioned way: on wax cylinder. just the way it was done over 100 years ago. Held in the Rabb Lecture Hall at the Boston Public Library's Copley Branch, the event was sponsored by The New England Institute of Art in partnership with the Education Committee of the AES.
The Hot Tamale Brass Band, featuring tuba, saxophone, trumpet, drums, and trombone set the evening's rollicking mood as it warmed up the overflowing crowd while the witnesses entered and found seats.
The evening's moderator, John Krivit spoke briefly about the AES, recognized the many audio students and faculty in the audience from area programs and then introduced Gerald Fabris, curator of the Edison National Historic Site.
Fabris began with a 30 minute history of the events and discoveries that preceded the wax cylinder technology including Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's phonautograph. Fabris showed drawings and photographs of early recording sessions and played the associated recordings from these sessions.
As Fabris arranged the five musicians on the stage for the first wax cylinder recording, Krivit unveiled a surprise. On hand was Bruno Caruso, the great grand nephew of Enrico Caruso who is considered to be the world's very first recording star. Mr. Bruno Caruso, a noted and respected audio engineer at Emerson College was invited on stage to "slate" the different recordings. Because there was no place to write labels on the wax cylinders, it had been customary to have someone with a strong voice bellow the date and other recording information into the large horn prior to the performance.
The band ran through four different performances of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which coincidently was published originally on the same date 100 years ago (February 2, 1910). Each performance was recorded and a playback was done on a separate machine. The audience then provided feedback as to where musicians could move relative to the large horn to achieve a more suitable balance between instruments. After the fourth and final take, the crowd swarmed Fabris on the stage to more closely witness his machines, pose for photographs and to ask additional questions.
Among the good number of high school students in the crowd, Laura Dowd of the Boston Latin School and Danny Whitlock of the Boston Arts Academy were astounded by the ability to make an audio recording without the use of electricity or microphones.
This type of event has been replicated many times. Jack Stanley, curator of the Edison Menlo Park Museum, directed a wax cylinder recording on September 21, 2005 at the New England Institute of Art. Gerald Fabris recorded musicians on March 11, 2009 at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell Campus. Subsequently, at the 2009 Parsons Expo in Dedham, Massachusetts, Professor Alex Case delivered a presentation contrasting the wax cylinder recordings made with the stereo and surround recordings that were done concurrently.
Nonetheless, this event topic never fails to draw a large and enthusiastic crowd of audiophiles and history buffs who are as enraptured as the crowds who witnessed Edison's initial demonstrations to skeptical audiences in the late 19th century.
This high profile event brought together student chapters from though out the New England region as well as longtime members of the professional Boston Chapter. Interested newcomers were made aware of the AES and perhaps a few new members were recruited.
For the college audio students and the high school students interested in audio, this demonstration provided a unique opportunity to connect the dots between audio recording and physics. An audio recording without the use of electricity or microphones? Who could think such a thing possible!