Line Out Music & the City at Night

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Jazz Diaspora: F***ing Records, How Do They Work?

Posted by on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Emile Berliner answers the question of what makes a talking machine talk, clearly and tersely: “Fundamentally it is this,” he says. “Sound thrown against the diaphragm makes it vibrate. If a needle is attached to the center, and made to touch a moving surface, for instance, semi-hard wax, the pointing of the needle will trace or cut sound vibrations into the wax. If now the diaphragm and needle are made to retrace the record, the vibratory tracings previously made will cause the diaphragm to re-vibrate and thereby reproduce the original sound.”

Emile Berliner is the man responsible for the invention of the flat disc record—the very same format that record enthusiasts enjoy to this day. The above quote from Berliner comes from an excellent and well-detailed early history of the phonograph titled "Talking Wax" by Leroy Hughbanks, which you can download here as a PDF file. If you have any interest in the early history of records, this is a wonderfully informative place to start. Another good book on the history of records and the early music industry is "The Fabulous Phonograph" by Roland Gelatt.

This week's clip offers a rare glimpse of a 1937 recording session with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra at Master Records Studio and includes a brief  appearance from the marvelous vocalist Ivie Anderson. It is, perhaps, the earliest account preserved on film of how records were recorded, plated, and pressed. The film shows the production of  78 rpm discs, as the Long Playing record or LP and 45 rpm single were still another dozen years away from being introduced to the record-buying public as a viable commercial format. The process shown is still the basic method for the production of records today.

An interesting thing to keep in mind is that at the time this was filmed, electric microphones for recording music had only been in use for about a decade. Prior to 1926 all commercially released records were recorded acoustically, meaning no electrical signal was involved between the musicians and the recording device (this important development is discussed in "Talking Wax"). Duke's earliest recordings were made acoustically and he must have been thrilled by the technological advances in recording that unfolded during the course of his career.

Listen and learn:

Bonus Clip:

RCA Victor presents Sound and the Story
The entire process of recording and manufacturing phonograph records in 1956 explained.
Note: the first 35 seconds or so are silent.


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