A Brief History of Recorded Sound

Picture This series of 22 slides gives a very brief history of recorded sound from before records began.

Before Recording

Picture Making and listening to music has always been a fundamental human need. Before the invention of recording you could only hear music if someone was prepared to play or sing it.

Musical Boxes

Picture Being able to record sounds was always a dream of inventors. Although musical boxes and barrel organs allowed people to hear music without anyone having to play, the sound was very limited.

Sheet Music

Picture The sale of sheet music was a big business. In order to hear their favourite songs, families would buy the music and play it on their piano at home.

Sounds Unbelievable

Picture In 1877, inventor Thomas Edison built a machine to record sound, and publicly demonstrated his "phonograph" playing his recitation of "Mary had a little lamb"

One Song at a Time

Picture To start with, the phonograph had a major disadvantage - the records could not be easily duplicated. Emile Berliner overcame this by developing a method of recording on a flat disc which could be copied over and over again.

The Gramophone Invented

Picture In 1897, the first gramophones were sold in England and by August 1898, the first disc records were being recorded in London. These are called "Berliner" Records, after the name of the inventor.

Pioneers to Celebrities

Picture The gramophone gradually gained respectability. At first most records were made by concert singers or popular artists. However by the early 1900s, the sound quality had improved sufficiently for stars such as Nellie Melba to record their voices.

Cylinders versus Discs

Picture Cylinder records competed with the flat discs for a number of years, but by the time of the First World War, the disc record had become the standard.

Nipper - The Gramophone Dog

Picture This painting by Francis Barraud originally featured a phonograph, but this was painted out and replaced by a gramophone to become the famous "His Master's Voice"

A gramophone in every home?

Picture The gramophone became an accepted part of the 20th century. By 1914 over one third of all British households owned a machine. - Where are they all today?

The gramophone at War

Picture During the Great War, the gramophone provided entertainment for those at the front. It was also used for recruitment to the Forces.

Into the 1920s

Picture The 1920s were a golden age of popular music. The war had cut short the youth of a generation and they were determined to make up for lost time. This they did to the sound of jazz and dance music.

The Gramophone goes Electric

Picture Up until 1925, all records were made by performing into a horn, which limited the range and type of music. By using the microphone, recordings of public performances became much easier - such as Ernest Lough's "O for the wings of a Dove"

Buddy can you spare a Dime?

Picture Although the early thirties were times of depression, the decade is noted for the many fine orchestral records which were made. One of the most famous recordings is that of Yehudi Menuhin playing Elgar's Violin Concerto.

At War again

Picture The war opened Europe to American Swing Music. Glenn Miller and his band were especially popular. Special "V" or Victory discs were issued to American servicemen

Bring out your old records

Picture Because of material shortages, appeals were made during both World Wars for old records to be recycled. Unfortunately for record collectors this resulted in many rare records being lost.

Famous Speeches

Picture Records have been made of some famous people. During the Second World War, Churchill recorded many of his famous speeches

Revolution at a new speed

Picture The first 33 rpm long playing records were introduced in America in 1948. At the same time, seven inch 45rpm discs were introduced for popular music. These together sounded the death knell of the 78rpm disc

Rock around the Clock

Picture The fifties were a boom time for records with new types of music including the UK's home grown "skiffle" groups. Juke boxes were advertised as suitable for providing church music!

One ear bad, Two ears good

Picture In 1958 the first stereo records were issued in the UK, enabling listeners to feel that they were really able to locate the position of the artists in the room. First examples often included demonstration effects, such as steam trains

The end of the Groove

Picture In 1982 the first Compact Discs appeared which promised "perfect sound for ever" Played by a laser and not a stylus, they have now made the LP as old fashioned as the 78 rpm disc was in 1960.

Only bits of Music

Picture In 1987 work commenced on audio compression, originally for digital television. The first mp3 player was produced in 1999. Despite concerns over sound quality it has become the dominant audio format for portable music players.

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