Sauk Valley Community College

Humanities 210

Lecture Note Seven



The History of Sound Recording

For this unit, we are going to do something a little different. Instead of studying music directly, we are going to look at a technology that has had a big impact on the art form we call music. That is, we will be looking at the technology of sound recording. (The majority of the lecture is contained on the websites given below. You must visit them all in order to do well on your paper and quiz.)

All art forms have been impacted to one degree or another by developing technologies. For example, in the middle 1800's, the metal tube for storing grease and oil was invented. This invention soon led to putting pre-mixed oil paints in tubes, which meant painters could squeeze out only the amount of paint they needed. This in turn meant they didn't need to worry about the rest of their paints drying out. But most importantly, this meant that they could now go outdoors to paint. And going out of doors meant that painters like Monet and Renoir were now free to develop the school of painting referred to as "Impressionism."   Neat, huh?

The Impact of the Arts on Technology

There is another way of looking at the development of technologies and their impact on the arts--this way is to look at the impact that the arts have on developing technologies. Often times, technologies that were developed for simple everyday applications didn't realize their full potential until painters, writers, musicians, dancers, etc., got their hands on them. For example, when photography was first developed, the inventors saw photography being used to take pictures of famous people and to answer scientific questions. In fact, one of the first uses photography was put to was to answer the ages old mystery of whether a horse, when galloping, ever has all four feet off the ground at the same time. By taking a series of pictures of a horse running, scientists could now see what they were unable to see with their own eyes in real time. (Think you know what they found out? Check here fot the results.   Or click here for the full story.)

It wasn't until visual artists started to experiment with the developing process, composition, and subject matter that photography began to be considered an important part of our lives. By the end of the 1800's, photography was considered an art form--but perhaps more importantly, because its use was spreading, costs were coming down. This meant that now the average middle class person was able to capture their own "art" and memories with the Kodak Brownie (introduced for just this purpose at the 1893 Columbian Exposition!).

The Advent of Sound Recording

Just as photography was developed (pardon the pun) for non-artistic purposes, the history of recording sound starts out the same way. In fact, Thomas Alva Edison, one of the main developers of the phonograph, worked on the technology initially for recording telephone messages (believe it or not, the telephone answer machine is one of the oldest uses of sound recording). Soon he also saw the phongraphs potential for recording speeches by famous people. Here is a short description of the development of the Edison's phonograph including his "top ten list" of potential uses. Again, it took musicians to realize the full potential of the process--and to realize its potential for making money! Check out these early gramaphones --notice how well they are crafted--almost art objects in themselves.

Other Voices

The rest of these lecture notes will be made up of four websites about the history of sound recording. (The final website contains examples of papers written by students for a class on the recording industry. I include them as examples of how to cite sources both within the paper and in a bibliography.)

A Story of Vinyl--A Short History of Recorded Sound -- From the BBC, a nice introduction the the early efforts that brought about the phonograph.

Birthplace of Recorded Sound This is the official "Menlo Park in Edison, New Jersey" site . Menlo Park, of course, is where Thomas Edison had his lab and workshop. This link will take you to the information on Edison's phonograph, but don't hesitate to explore the site further--it's kinda cool.

The History of Recorded Music This is a neat site with not a lot of text but a nice chronology

The Movies are Born a Child of the Phonograph A short piece on how the early phonograph and moving pictures industries finally came together to create the movies as we know them today. (Notice the reference to "Superstars.")

"I didn't know you liked The Delfonics." Here is a paper on how Quentin Tarantino uses music in his movies which you can use as an example of how to cite sources--keep itin mind as you work on your final. What you are looking for are the parenthetical citations-- (Murray  22)-- which tell us that the info came from a particular source that is then listed in the bibliography or Works Cited.



Please use Google for your research. (Be sure to click WWW for searches beyond this site.)