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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Edison made 1st sound recording 125 years ago today

I have music here in a box shut up, like one of those bottled djinns in the Arabian Nights, and ready at a touch to break out of its prison.
- Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) (of the gramophone, Music at Night, 1931)

I am... terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music will be put on records forever.
- Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) (recorded on a "phonogram" for Thomas Edison in 1888)

Should we not fear this domestication of sound, this magic that anyone can bring from a disc at will? Will it not bring to waste the mysterious force of an art which one might have thought indestructible?
- Claude Debussy (1862-1918) (La Revue S.I.M., 1913)

Today is the 135th anniversary of the day in 1877 when American inventor Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931) made his first sound recording by reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb" into a phonograph of his own design. Edison's first hand-cranked recording apparatus used a vibration-driven stylus to impress up-and-down sound undulations on a wax-coated cylinder. The round, flat gramophone record* was soon to follow - in 78, 45, and 33-1/3 versions - and then tape, CDs, DVDs, and other forms of digital media. Despite the downsides voiced above - and that of discouraging much live music-making at home - sound recording has certainly made more different kinds of music - and the spoken word - more easily available to more people worldwide than was ever dreamed of in the mid-19th century, and that's been a tremendous boon to our common humanity.

* N.B. The gramophone "platter," devised by the German-born American
inventor Emile Berliner (1851-1929) used lateral (side-to side) vibrations to reproduce the sound signal.

Edison and his first phonograph:



... and here's what it sounded like in a later commercial realization ca.1905.

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