Recording Pioneers- Part 7, William Barry Owen

 

Name:              William Barry Owen

Born:              15 April 1860

Resident:        Born in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts

Occupation:   Sent to London to raise investment funds for the Gramophone Company to expand into Europe

Loves:             Music, Musicians, Gambling, London high society parties

 

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In July 1897 William Barry Owen resigned from his post with the National Gramophone Company in the United States and sailed for Britain. He was sent by Emile Berliner, inventor of the Gramophone and flat disc to set up the company in England and find investors. When he arrived he met a young Welsh lawyer; Trevor Lloyd Williams who became his co-founder of The British Gramophone Company in 1899.

Owen was an excellent sales man, having refined his selling talents as a sales man during his law degree at Amherst College. He was also a gambler who enjoyed the high stakes of starting up new ventures and more importantly he enjoyed living the high life that could be achieved if successful and so he jumped at the potential high profits in Berliner’s new Gramophone.

Initially he threw himself into the work but found high society London to be a tough crowd to crack, the Gramophones were selling but he found it difficult to attract investors to help build the business. It was his idea to bring in the Lambert Typewriter as an insurance product in case the Gramophone flopped. However, as fate would have it, the Lambert typewriter failed to bring in much revenue and The Gramophone Company stopped production in 1904. At this point Owen seemed to loose interest in the business,  he remained on the board for two more years and then left The Gramophone Company altogether in 1906.

After resigning he left Britain and returned home to the United States where he made several unsuccessful attempts in the agricultural business. By 1910 he had spent all of his money and was riddled with debt. He spent the rest of his life living off a pension paid jointly by Victor Talking Machine and The Gramophone Company.

Top 10 Aussie Sopranos

By Roger Neil

Sound of the Hound guest blogger
Someone started a thread on the unofficial BBC Radio 3 message boards asking for nominations for the top ten sopranos.

It seemed to me that the emerging lists were filled with the usual suspects, and since I’m currently in the process (with Tony Locantro) of finishing up a 4 x CD set for Decca Australia entitled ‘From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record’, this is the list I offered:

Melba as Rosina

Nellie Melba
Frances Alda
Elsa Stralia
Florence Austral
Margherita Grandi
Marjorie Lawrence
Sylvia Fisher
Joan Hammond
Elsie Morison
Joan Sutherland

What a team. Other nominations?

If you  have loved this article by Roger Neil you can find more articles on the Official Roger Neil blog.

 

Recording Pioneers- Part 6

Frederick William Gaisberg 1873 – 1951

“Fred was clearly one of those Children with a natural talent for the keyboard, and his mother made the most of this opportunity from the moment she began to teach him when he was four.”

-Extract from ‘A Voice in Time’ – Jerrold Northrop Moore

 Name:               Frederick William Gaisberg

Born:              1 January 1873

Resident:        Born in Washington DC, immigrated to the United Kingdom as a young man of only 25 in 1898

Occupation:   Sound Recording Engineer, A&R Supreme

Loves:             Travelling, musicians, engineering

Fred Gaisberg

© Courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

Fred Gaisberg’s love affair with music began at the early age of just four.  From the age of eight until his voice broke Fred was a chorister at St John’s Episcopal Church, here he met and studied under one of Washington’s most celebrated artists of the time – the young master of the United States Marine Band, John Philip Sousa.

“I attended rehearsals in his then modest home in the Navy Yard in South Washington. He (Sousa) patted me on the head and made quite a pet of me… I was one of those music-mad youngsters who hovered by his podium and never missed a concert.”

-Fred Gaisberg recalling his childhood

Although he was an excellent singer, the piano remained his first love and after securing a scholarship to study piano he gained a reputation for his excellent playing and accompanying and was soon playing for charitable organisations and amateur organisation throughout the city. In 1889 in search of some more pocket money, the sixteen year old Gaisberg came across an advert for the Columbia Phonograph Company.  They were looking for someone to play the piano loudly and clearly enough for its sounds to be captured by the apparatus as the accompaniment for a musician to record.

One of the first musicians selected to record with Gaisberg was John York Atlee, a Whistler. Together they would churn out in three’s countless records of performances of ‘Whistling Coon’, ‘Mocking Bird’, and the ‘Laughing Song’.  These recordings were made on small hollow cylinders of wax, where a needle moved gradually in a lateral way etching the grooves that represented the sound waves into the wax.

Fred Gaisberg secured his first job working at the Columbia Phonograph Company. He spent the next few years working for various people within the growing phonograph industry, including Thomas Edison.

In 1894 he met Emile Berliner and his career took on a new direction. His fascination with Berliner’s novel recording process was the start of his career change from an accompanying pianist to a recording sound engineer. Very soon after meeting and working under Berliner, Gaisberg was sent to London to record music for the European market, working with Trevor Lloyd Williams and William Barry Owen.

Once he reached London he was introduced to another sound engineer – Sinkler Derby and together they continued to travel all over the world recording local music for the ever expanding Gramophone Company. His travels are well documented in “The Fred Gaisberg Diaries” which have been made available by Hugo Strötbaum.  Fred Gaisberg was without a doubt one of the single biggest contributors to the success of the Gramophone Company.  More details on exactly what he got up to can be found in our Gaisberg Travels blog series.

Fred Gaisberg and Sinkler Derby

Memories of EMI Campaign

The EMI Archive Trust is delighted to introduce our new ‘Memories of EMI Campaign’.

We believe that the strong legacy of EMI is a testament to the people who worked for the company across the years and The Trust would like to celebrate those employees.
We’d love to hear from previous employees to learn about their stories of what life was like working for EMI. Find out more on how to get involved here.

Mystery Object # answer 4

Our last posting must have been a bit too easy for our regulars hound contributors, but for those still biting at the bit  here is the answer ….

The Klingsor Gramophone, Krefeld and Polyphon. 1910 Courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

The Klingsor Gramophone, Krefeld and Polyphon. 1910
Courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

The Klingsor Gramophone was invented in Germany in 1907, and featured a group of strings stretched across the horn opening which resonated as the sound was emitted. There many styles and sizes available, including coin-op and ones with dancing figures in the recess below the horn. They were sold in the UK through Murdoch, who was still offering machines in the 1920’s.

Mystery Object # 3 Answer

Full points to Rob, Andy and Russell who deftly identified last weeks Mystery Object of the Week as an early Tin Foil Phonograph.

Mystery Object # 3 Answer Tin Foil Phonograph Courtesy of  EMI  Archive Trust

Mystery Object # 3 Answer
Tin Foil Phonograph
Courtesy of EMI Archive Trust

Object: Modified Tin Foil Phonograph Maker Archibald H.Irvine, 1877

This is a rare hand-driven modified Edison tin foil phonograph on a heavy mahogany base with mahogany trunnions and speaker/reproducer mounts (one with diaphragm). It has brass fittings and an iron mandrel on a shaft threaded at each end, with a spoked hand-wheel. It has now been raised on wooden supports for angled display. It was constructed by Archibald H. Irvine (M.Inst. C.E.) for the first Phonograph demonstration and lecture, and exhibited before the Royal Institute by Sir William Priestly in December 1877. It was presented to the Gramophone Company by Sir Francis Fox (M. Inst. C.E.) in December 1912. Sir Francis Fox also donated some original tin foil strips to The Gramophone Company.”

Mystery Object # 3 Answer  Tin Foil Phonograph Copyright courtesy of  EMI  Archive Trust

Mystery Object # 3 Answer
Tin Foil Phonograph
Copyright courtesy of EMI Archive Trust

This is a sample of original tin foil for recording and reproducing on early phonographs. The tinfoil is stored between two heavy glass sides to ensure it remains flat. The paper covering the glass sides is written on in ink and reads “The Manager of The Gramophone Co Hayes Middlesex. Tin Foil for “Records” – for the original Phonograph made in the year 1876. With compliments Sir Francis Fox.

Sir Francis Fox also donated a Tin foil phonograph to The Gramophone Company.

Mystery Object # 3 Answer Phonograph Tin Foil Copyright courtesy of  EMI  Archive Trust

Mystery Object # 3 Answer
Phonograph Tin Foil
Copyright courtesy of EMI Archive Trust

The Hound thought you’d enjoy this clip of Michael Wolf demonstrating his own Tin Foil Phonograph.

Thank you to our friends at the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to share their archive through Mystery Object of the Week.

Gaisberg’s Travels

On the 23rd of July 1898 Fred Gaisberg, at the age of 25 set sail on the 9 a.m. SS Umbria Cunard ship from New York to Liverpool. He was sent by the inventor of the Gramophone, Emile Berliner to London as one of the first sound engineers to set up a recording studio in London to cater to the European market. GAISBERG_DIARIES_11.pdf - Adobe Reader

Fred’s personal preparations for life across the sea were simple. “My baggage consisted of a complete recording outfit plus a twenty-five dollar bicycle with pneumatic tyres, and a notebook stuffed with receipts addresses and advice… “

GAISBERG_DIARIES_1.pdf - Adobe ReaderAt only 25 years old one can only imagine the excitement, curiosity and fear Gaisberg would have felt as his cousin, Carrie, waved him goodbye from the New York harbour. He must have wondered…would he like the new people? Would London be welcoming? Would the journey be comfortable?

Gaisberg (L) and Joseph Sanders (C) aboard the SS Umbria en-route to Liverpool, July 1898Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Gaisberg (L) and Joseph Sanders (C) aboard the SS Umbria en-route to Liverpool, July 1898Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Although he must have been anxious he was certainly ambitious, taking the opportunity to meet potential contacts and artists while aboard. During his journey he met the music hall comedian Bert Shepherd, whose wide repertoire and contagious laugh drew in Gaisberg. The two became friends and before leaving the SS Umbria Gaisberg  secured a promise from shepherd to visit the studio in London once it was set up.

Scott’s Gramophone Great Tour

courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

In 1910 this beautiful HMV Gramophone was loaned by The Gramophone Company to Captain Scott to keep the sailors and expedition team entertained as they made their way to the South Pole.

Scott took with him two HMV “monarch” gramophones, donated by The Gramophone Company, which later became EMI, together with several hundred 78rpm discs, chosen to boost the team’s morale.

courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

Scott’s Gramophone has now returned safely back to the EMI Archive Trust after another epic journey to Australia, New Zealand and back to the United Kingdom with the award winning the Natural History Museum’s” Scott’s Last expedition” exhibition, June 2011-June 2013.

The EMI Archive Trust worked closely with EMI to make a collection of recordings played, and recordings likely to have been played on Scott’s fateful last expedition to the South Pole.

‘Scott’s Music Box is available as download or double CD. (available here.)

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Happy American Independence day!

In the early days of the Gramophone Company the British founders worked closely with their American counterparts. A lot of the initial success can be attributed to one of the first sound and recording engineers – American Born Fred Gaisberg.

Fred Gaisberg

Fred Gaisberg, Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

He began working on the newly invented gramophone in the late 19th century and was taken on by the Gramophone Company in 1898.  Read more about the work Gaisberg did as one of the first sound engineers on a previous blog post here

Fred Gaisberg with Sinkler Darby, Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Fred Gaisberg with Sinkler Darby, Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

On this very day 113 years ago (4th of July 1900) Gaisberg himself was en route to Milan to record for the Gramophone Company as recorded in his personal diary. As one of the company’s best sound engineers he spend a lot of time in mainland Europe recording popular local musicians.

“Wednesday, 4 July 1900 [The Vatican → by train to Florence → Bologna → Milan]
“We started for Milan, passing through Florence and Bologna.
Arriving at the Hotel Milan about 9 o’c we entered, and were lucky enough to see the great composer Verdi. Fine-looking maestro now bent with age, yet with a distinguished look. He must be about 86 years old.” FG

File:Verdi-photo-Brogi.jpg

Giuseppe Verdi

So  please be upstanding for AMERICA and STAR SPANGLED BANNER by the Victor Brass Quartet – 1909