“We realised how many different degrees of smells there are in the world”
-William Gaisberg’s observation of Hyderabad, India
Name: William Conrad Gaisberg
Born: 26th June 1877
Resident: Born in Washington DC, USA
Occupation: Recording engineer, managing director & head of London Recording Department
Loves: Travelling, opera, pushing the boundaries of music and his brother (Fred)
Upon completing one’s education, following in your brother’s footsteps in the recording industry would not seem at all unusual, but, in the case of William Gaisberg, their father thought otherwise. As William recalled in his later years, “My father…did not think that he should let two of his sons start their careers in such an uncertain business as the talking machine.” Instead William was put to “selling coal.” Eventually however, despite his father’s reticence, he allowed him to join elder brother Fred.
In 1894, Fred Gaisberg came to work at Emile Berliner’s laboratory in Washington D.C. In 1902, younger brother William [Gaisberg] and William Sinkler Darby, came to join him. It was during this period that Berliner imparted his knowledge of the secrets of disc record-making to these young men. Within a few years the three of them moved to Europe, where, as recording engineers, they became the most important figures in The Gramophone Company’s staff.
-Recording in the Vatican, Recording in the Vatican, April 1902. Left to right: William Michaelis, the castrato Alessandro Moreschi and William Gaisberg
William Gaisberg’s enthusiasm and enterprising nature led him to take over many of his brother’s duties, which included managing and leading the third recording tour of India. The third tour began at Calcutta in 1906, and then proceeded onto Lucknow, Delhi, Lahore, Hyderabad and Madras.
Despite the Gramophone Company’s dominant position and success in the talking machine and disc record trade in Asia, It could not rest on its laurels of achievement, as American recording companies such as The Columbia Phonograph Company began making great advances. This motivated William to record artists of a higher repute and achieve a product of a much higher quality.
Gaisberg sought to record vocalists associated within the theatrical circuit, which resulted in him making the first recordings of Miss Janki Bai of Allahabad. He also placed emphasis on recordings of Gauhar Jaan, whose status had grown significantly, earning the reputation as a ‘Gramophone celebrity’.
In 1910 at the age of 33, William became manager of the Recording department, where he provided a vital link between the head office and its overseas territories.
In October 1918, a month before the Armistice was signed, The Gramophone Company became involved in a project to record the sound of the war. The reasoning behind the venture was that if there were to be no more war, then for the benefit of posterity, it was important to record and document the sounds of battle.
The Company elected to send William to the Western Front. It was in the French city of Lille that he recorded The Royal Garrison Artillery firing off a gas barrage. By the time the recording was completed, the war was over. Gaisberg had been slightly gassed during the expedition, and fell victim to the flu pandemic and tragically died a month later in November 1918.