Twenty years before Edison invented the recording process, Frenchman Leon Scott de Martinville invented a device for recording sound. He called it the Phonautograph and patented it on March 25, 1857. It did what it said on the tin and recorded sound, tracing the shape of sound waves as undulations or other deviations in a line traced on smoke-blackened paper or glass. What it didn’t do was play sound back which may be why history is silent about the Phonautograph…….until 2008.
In 2008 a group of US researchers from the First Sounds collective digitally converted the phonautograph recording of Au Clair de la Lune that de Martinville made on April 9, 1860 and it is the earliest recognisable record of the human voice and the earliest recognisable record of music. The momentous recording can be heard here:
You can find out a lot more about this recording and other very early recordings at the First Sounds website. Their site tells us that “First Sounds is an informal collaborative of audio historians, recording engineers, sound archivists, scientists, other individuals, and organizations who aim to make mankind’s earliest sound recordings available to all people for all time”.
3 late addedum:
David Giovannoni, who is one of the First Sound guys, explains his project on this video clip.
The Au Clair de la Lune recording won a grammy in 2008
As David says in his video they have found a recording of cornet playing that was recorded 3 years earlier in 1857 – making it the oldest recording of music ever.
I’d love to get in touch with David and First Sounds but it looks like their email is currently broken. If you have a way of contacting them please let me know.
I found this piece of film on youtube. Its a wonderful period piece shot in Australia that shows how EMI Australia recorded, manufactured and released a record in those days when vinyl ruled the world.
I think that recording was made in EMI’s Studios 301 that is now part of Tom Meisner’s SAE empire. Can anybody confirm that? Please let me know if you think it was a different studio.
The band in the film are The Australian Crawl. This was their first single on EMI called “Beautiful People” and it reached #22 in the Australian charts. they would go on to become the 4th most successful Aussie band on their domestic albums chart of all time by the mid-1980’s when they split up.
It is very sad to learn of the death of Jet Harris who was early bass guitarist with Cliff Richard and The Shadows. He’s been credited with both introducing the first electric bass guitar into the UK and with coming up with the name of The Shadows when Cliff’s band had to change their name from The Drifters because there was an American band with the same name. He left the group in 1962 citing both musical and personal differences with other members of The Shadows but went on to make some extraordinary sounding and extremely popular records including this one “Diamonds” which sat atop the UK charts for 6 weeks in 1963.
Jet lived a very rock’n’roll lifestyle and suffered well documented battles with depression and alcohol. He continued to tour and make records until recently and in 2010 was recently awarded an MBE in recognition of his services to music. Jet Harris was 71 years old.
Nellie Melba is one of those huge musical stars from the turn of the last century whose name remains very familiar today – although sadly her music is less well known. She died just over 80 years go on February 23rd 1931 and you can see how significant she was at the time from this clip of film taken at her state funeral in Melbourne. The service was mobbed by thousands of fans and the motorcade that took her from service to burial was almost a mile long. Her death made front page headlines around the globe as billboards simply announced “Melba is dead”.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Melba is this endpoint. She was an Australian girl born Helen Porter Mitchell who rose from relatively humble beginnings to be granted a state funeral.
En route to the magificent send off her life blazed. Like many stars before and since she reinvented herself (as Nellie Melba; her new surname was a shortening of her home city of Melbourne). Unlike most other stars she was made a Dame of the Order Of The British Empire. Bizarrely she is probably now best known for the pudding she had named after her called a “Peach Melba ” and also thin toasts for pate called Melba toast ” that were created in her honour by the celebrity chef of the 1890’s and and Nellie-fan Auguste Escoffier.
Peter Andry, who ran EMI Classics for many years, has sadly passed away. Peter was an important EMI executive from the 1950’s to the late 1980’s who retained close links to EMI’s archives even after moving to Warner Classics and then later retiring. Our thoughts go out to Peter’s family.
Following on from our first blog item below about the microphone used in the new film The Kings Speech and in response to the huge correspondence that the blog item stirred up (well I had one email about it), here are some more of the royal microphones held by the EMI Group Archive Trust. Two of them were also used in the film. Here are the royal beauties one by one (and I must thank world famous microphone meister Lester Smith for writing the technical descriptions of these pieces):
This is the HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother microphone (1936) which is the same as the KGVI one in the original blog item, apart from the silver gilt front with the Silver Marks of G.& S.Co.Ltd. and the Lion and Leopard’s Head but no date letter. On the top is also the Royal Coat of Arms. This was used in the film.
The above microphone is the HM King George V piece. Its is a 1925 Marconi-Reisz carbon microphone with marble body made by the Marconi company (a company taken over by the Gramophone Company in 1928). and was used at Silver Jubilee Celebrations in Westminster Hall, May 9th, 1935. This was the third and final microphone owned by the EMI Group Archive Trust that was used in recording the soundtrack of The Kings Speech.
This microphone was built for George VI’s father, HM King George V in 1923 and is a Marconi-Sykes design – very heavy and impressive with marble body
The final royal microphone in this part of the collection is the HM Queen Mary microphone which is a 1925 Marconi-Reisz carbon microphone.
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Fred Gaisberg was one of the men who invented the recording industry. In 1893 he worked in the States as the assistant to Emile Berliner, who had just invented the gramophone disc, and then Gaisberg went on to open and run the world’s first recording studio. In 1898 Gaisberg moved to London to make the first European gramophone recordings. He had a great career going on to become a shareholder and senior executive at The Gramophone Company, that turned into EMI, where he personally sketched out the design for Abbey Road Studios, but his first love was the discovering and recording of world class artists. One of the first artists he recorded was Enrico Caruso who went on to become the world’s first recording superstar.
Gaisberg had what he called “portable”recording equipment that he took with him on his journeys around the world to record local artists. It was not really that portable as it took six crates to ship it with him but Gaisberg nevertheless used it to make some of the most significant recordings at the very dawn of the recording business.
In 1902 he was in Milan and after hearing a young Caruso singing at La Scala was determined to record the singer. Caruso, like many of the great stars of the day was reluctant to be recorded and demanded a huge fee of 100 pounds for ten songs (which was the standard Gramophone Company contract in those days). Gaisberg telegrammed his record company for permission to press ahead with the record, but quickly received back the negative response “FEE EXORBITANT FORBID YOU TO RECORD”. Believing Caruso to be an extremely special talent and backing his judgement to the hilt, Fred chose to ignore the order and underwrote the payment to Caruso out of his own pocket.
In the middle of the day on April 11th Caruso arrived at the Grande Hotel “dressed like a dandy, twirling a cane.” He was taken up to the room where Gaisberg had set up the recording equipment but the singer initially appeared impatient to get the job over as quickly as possible to earn his 100 pounds and proceed to lunch.
Once the young singer began to sing, however, he threw himself fully into the recording process. The songs were, according to Fred himself, “all about 2 and a half minutes long and one after another, as fast as we could put the waxes on the machine, Caruso poured the fresh gold of that beautiful voice on to them.”
As a souvenir of the occassion, Caruso who was a decent cartoonist, drew the picture of himself recording for Gaisberg that is at the top of this article. He even included his version of Barraud’s Dog and Trumpet picture which was a Gramophone Company logo. Caruso pocketed his 100 pound payment and left Gaisberg in the hotel room with the post euphoric realisation that The Gramophone Company would need to sell an unheard of 2,000 copies to recoup the cost of the 100 pound fee. At this time very very few people had gramophones and so the market for discs was tiny. This is the first of the recordings that Fred had paid for:
The ten sides of Caruso did become a huge success both for the Gramophone Company, who made a profit of 15,000 pounds on the recordings (which meant that had sold in excess of 300,000 copies; the first true world wide hit records!), and for Caruso who became famous and much sought after all over the world, these recordings acting as viral marketing for the Caruso brand.
He became hugely successful and made many more recordings; 290 in total, most for the American company that became RCA Victor. He sang to great and lucrative acclaim at all the major concert halls and great opera houses of the world, made a couple of (ironically silent, of course) movies and was the featured of the first ever public radio broadcast in America in 1910.
Fred Gaisberg had recognised a special talent in Caruso and by recording it and making it available to be listened to throughout the world, he helped move the gramophone business to a popular tipping point as people bought gramophones to be able to hear Caruso’s sensational voice and in doing so gave recording stars access to a level of worldwide audience that had been hitherto impossible to reach. Fred had in fact helped to create the blueprint for the modern music star.
A major new film opens today, January 7th 2011, in the UK. The King’s Speech is tipped to win a gong or two in the upcoming awards season; possibly even Best Picture at The Oscars. It tells the story of King George VI who suffered from a debilitating speech impediment all his life and the efforts of an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue, to help him overcome his severe stammer so that he can address his people as they stand alone against the all conquering Nazi’s in World War Two.
This microphone was specially made for H.M. King George VI by EMI. It is a Reisz type microphone. The silver cone microphone rests on a desk style stand. The front of the microphone is decorated with a silver rose, leek, thistle and shamrock symbolising the countries which make up Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In the middle of the microphone there is a his gilt cypher, whilst on top there is a gilt coat of arms. The microphone also comes with two accompnaying silver plauqes giving details of the occasions on which it was used. It was first used for the opening of the Maritime Museum at Greenwich on the 27th April 1937. it was last used on July 22nd 1938 for the unveiling of an Austrailian memorial at Villiers Bretonneux in France.
The technical details of the microphone are as follows: KGVl is a moving coil permanent magnet microphone based on the EMI PM 201. It has a 15 ohm coil and gives a good output of half a volt. It is attached to a chromium plated stand. On the top of the chromium ‘headlamp style’ body, is the Royal Coat of Arms. The front of the mic has an unique silver grill bearing the King’s insignia in silver gilt and the makers mark of G.& S.Co.Ltd. (Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co. Ltd.). It is part of our collection of significant vintage microphones.