Recording Music


Birth of the record player

The first sounds were recorded and reproduced by the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison in 1877, in a contraption he later refined and marketed as the phonograph (`sound writer'). It used a horn with a diaphragm at the narrow end as both a microphone and loudspeaker. When someone spoke or sang into the horn, the diaphragm - and a steel needle attached to it - vibrated up and down. The record was a sheet of tinfoil wrapped round a cylinder with a spiral groove cut in its surface. To record, the cylinder was turned by a handle. Sounds entering the horn vibrated the needle, which moved along the spiral groove and indented the tinfoil as it did so. To play the recording, the cylinder was turned again, and as the needle followed the indentations in the tinfoil, it vibrated the diaphragm, causing sounds to emerge from the horn.

German-born Emile Berliner, working in the United States, made the vital breakthrough in sound recording in 1888 when he introduced the record disc. It was played on a turntable using the same type of horn and needle as the phonograph. Berliner called his machine the gramophone. Four years later he pioneered the technique of copying discs by electroplating and stamping. Previously, each disc or cylinder had to be recorded separately a performer might have to record the same song hundreds of times. Berliner's shellac 78rpm disc remained the standard until 1948.

Live performance

In the early days of recording, as at this session in France in the early 1900s, the technology for master-disc making was in its infancy. The turntable mechanism had to be wound up by hand for each disc cut. As the needle was set on disc, the performers, who were grouped round the horn, began to play. The equipment for making the recording was mounted on an isolated concrete block, so that vibrations other than the sound waves from the performance would not affect the needle as it cut the disc. Earlier types of recording using a wax cylinder had to be individually made.

Musical Technologies