You are on page 1of 9

Katie Bamboi

Becembei 12, 2u1S

Technology anu Nusic in the Eaily Twentieth Centuiy

Since the miu 18uus, people have been able to iecoiu sounu waves to be
heaiu latei. As the yeais went on, technology changeu, allowing musicians anu theii
iecoiu companies to expeiiment moie anu cieate new types of sounus, many of
which coulu nevei be uuplicateu foi live peifoimances. Theie weie also
technological auvances in ways to get music to listeneis as well. In some ways, the
technology changeu the music, anu in othei ways, the music÷oi what the musician
hopeu to accomplish÷changeu the technology thiough sheei foice of will.
The veiy basic technology foi iecoiuing sounus weie uiscoveieu in the miu-
18uus by Thomas Euison, also uesciibeu by Fienchman Chailes Cios. The
technology continueu to impiove thiough to the enu of the centuiy with sounus
insciibeu on wax oi tin foil, but foi most of the centuiy it was useu foi little moie
than stenogiaphy. In the 189us, phonogiaphs anu giaphophones÷cylinuei-baseu
iecoiuing uevices÷began to be coin-opeiateu foi enteitainment puiposes,
beginning the tienu of listening to iecoiueu music (!"#$%&'() +',-$%. NT2).
In the 189us, Emile Beilinei intiouuceu what he calleu a giamophone: a
playei than useu a zinc uisc coateu in wax, oi shellac, insteau of a cylinuei. 0nce a
iecoiuing was maue in the wax, the uisc was uippeu in aciu to uissolve the uisc
unuei the gioove, theieby etching the iecoiuing into the zinc. A neeule woulu be
moveu acioss this etching anu then iouteu to an amplification uevice in oiuei to
cieate sounu. This uisc coulu then be uuplicateu by tuining the uisc into a stamp anu
cieate the final iecoiuings. These giamophone iecoiuings coulu be playeu back at a
louuei volume anu coulu be mass-piouuceu, making it an impiovement to the
pievious phonogiaphs anu giaphophones (!"#$%&'() +',-$%. PT4). In 1897, the
uiamophone Company commeicializeu the giamophone in the 0niteu Kinguom,
wheieas in 19u1, the victoi Talking Nachine Company uiu the same thing in the
0niteu States, calling them victiolas (!"#$%&'() +',-$%. PTS). As a iesult, the 0niteu
Kinguom went on to call these iecoiuings "giamophones" oi "iecoius," anu calling
"phonogiaphs" any sounu cieateu by cylinueis. The 0niteu States calleu any sounu
uevices cieateu by Euison "phonogiaphs," anu any uisc iecoiuings weie calleu
"victiola iecoius" oi just "iecoius," anu even calling any uevice not of the victoi
Company a "victiola."
The uisc was so populai that Euison finally began
manufactuiing uisc phonogiaphs until his company closeu in 1929 (!"#$%&'()
+',-$%. PTS).
Thiough to the 192us, the iecoiuing uevices weie solely mechanical,
opeiateu with a hanu ciank oi some othei non-electiic tuining uevice, ielying on
the acoustic amplifying hoin to jettison the sounu. In 1924 the Westein Electiic
Company, the uivision of Bell System anu AT&T that manufactuieu equipment anu
telephones, uevelopeu electionic amplifieis. As home iauios became populai,
families woulu buy playeis with electiic motois anu electiic amplifieis, eithei with
built-in speakeis oi they woulu plug it in to theii sepaiate iauio sets. This new

Fiom heie on, these will be iefeiieu to as "iecoius."
electiic uevice maue foi a louuei anu cleaiei sounu, anu though some people
complaineu that the new uevice's sounu was haish, the piouuct was an
oveiwhelming success (!"#$%&'() +',-$%. NTS). The electiic uevices weie simply
moie sensitive to sounu anu maue it possible foi the music's subtlei tones to shine
thiough (Nillaiu 1u8).
Aftei these technological auvances in the basics of sounu iecoiuing anu
playback, the inventions cieateu weie foi ways to impiove the iecoiu playei, not to
cieate a new foim of playback uevice. In the 19Sus, RCA victoi maiketeu the fiist
commeicial vinyl long-playing iecoiu, which playeu at SSV iotations pei minute
(ipm), measuieu at with a 12-inch uiametei ("About vinyl Recoius"). This flexible
plastic uisc was a commeicial failuie, howevei, because not many people coulu
affoiu it uuiing the uieat Bepiession. Even so, when Woilu Wai II iesulteu in a lack
of shellac supplies, vinyl iecoius weie attempteu once moie, this time 78 ipm, some
of which weie foi 6 minutes anu given to the tioops oveiseas ("About vinyl
Recoius"). In 19S9, Bi. Petei uolumaik of Columbia Recoius cieateu the
miciogioove iecoiu, which meant moie giooves on each iecoiu anu theiefoie moie
sounu coulu be iecoiueu onto one uisc. In 1948, Columbia Recoius ievealeu his 12"
(Sucm) Long Play (LP) iecoiu at SSV ipm. Soon aftei, RCA victoi sought to compete
with Columbia by cieating the 7" (17.S cm) Extenueu Play (EP) iecoiu at 4S ipm.
Between 1948 anu 19Su, theie was unceitainty in which company woulu ultimately
pievail, anu the companies' iivaliy was uubbeu the "Wai of the Speeus." In the enu,
LP uiscs uominateu foi music albums, pioviuing foi up to half an houi of iecoiuing,
anu EPs weie useu foi singles, containing one song on each siue up to about six
minutes ("About vinyl Recoius"). The 4S EPs weie also maiketeu in this way
because they weie taigeteu foi teens who enjoyeu the convenience of the small-
sizeu iecoius anu the uuiability of the vinyl, anu they hau enough money to buy
them (Campbell 69).
In auuition to iecoius, ieel-to-ieel tape iecoiuing was uevelopeu beginning
in 1898 with Banish inventoi valuemai Poulsen's telegiaphone. This machine useu
steel wiie in fiont of an electiomagnet to iecoiu sounus ("Who Inventeu the
Nagnetic"). Though this invention wins fiist piize at the Expo of Paiis in 19uu, when
biought to the 0niteu States it was not ieceiveu well anu then foigotten. Insteau, in
the 19Sus ueiman engineeis uiscoveieu the invention anu Auolph Bitlei useu it to
uelivei his speeches to a wiuei auuience. In 19S4, BASF Company began
manufactuiing the fiist magnetic tape on plastic, iathei than metal wiie. The
auvantages of this thin mateiial weie that it was lightweight yet stiongei than sticky
tape, it was safe to touch (as the pievious wiie was as shaip as a iazoi), anu it coulu
be iecoiueu ovei multiple times. 0n Apiil 2S, 1948, the fiist commeicial iecoiuing
occuiieu with the /'() 0%$,1. 23$4, iecoiueu by }ack Nullin, as a uelayeu iauio
bioaucast ("Who Inventeu the Nagnetic").
Anothei foim of music listening to music was the 8-tiack tape. Like ieel-to-
ieel, the 8-tiack hau a magnetic tape but ¾ inches, but eveiything was encloseu in a
plastic casing, oi caitiiuge. What maue this tape unique was its ability to iepeat
continuously. Rauio stations began to use this uevice fiequently iight aftei Woilu
Wai II, as they sought ways to automate the music playeu ovei the aii (Noiton).
That way, they coulu put one tape in with multiple songs anu play music foi as long
as they woulu like. Automatic stait-anu-stop mechanisms anu enu-of-tape sensois
weie also inventeu, anu by the eaily 196us, many iauio stations anu put a lot of
theii music anu announcements on 8-tiacks, ieplacing B}s foi paits of the uay
The 8-tiack was also extiemely useful foi music on the go. These playeis
weie installeu in cais, as iecoiu playeis woulu not woik with so much movement.
Foi teens that hau theii own cais, this was a fieeing concept: no longei uiu they
have to be confineu to theii homes anu juugeu by theii paients when listening to
music, especially if theii paients uislikeu the music. The teens coulu go wheievei
they pleaseu.
Aftei magnetic tape came along, musicians uiscoveieu that they coulu iecoiu
multiple, simultaneous things, oi multitiacks, on the same bit of ieel-to-ieel tape.
The fiist multitiack iecoiuei was cieateu by Les Paul in 19S2 ("Les Paul
Biogiaphy") anu was maiketeu by the Ampex Company beginning in 19SS ("Who
Inventeu the Nagnetic"). By allowing foi musicians to iecoiu songs within multiple
takes, anu they coulu even be a one-man banu on tape÷one peison coulu sing, play
guitai, play the bass, anu play the uiums all on sepaiate tiacks anu then put them all
togethei to cieate a final piouuct.
0ne of the fiist majoi uses of multitiack iecoiuing was the Beach Boys'
sounu. Biian Wilson, cieatoi of theii uistinctive sounu, saiu he woikeu extensively
on what theii sounu woulu be like befoie the banu evei began iecoiuing. Be
essentially iecoiueu the song in theii gaiage by himself, oveilapping his voice with
itself to cieate haimonies anu auuing instiuments÷a tiue one-man banu (Campbell
1S1). With this new technology came auvantages foi the musicians, as they coulu
now have an iuea, iecoiu eveiything themselves, anu quickly show it to theii banu
membeis, theieby making the cieative piocess go moie quickly. They weie also able
to iemove a tiack if it was not to theii liking, anu iecoiu again; befoie, if one
musician messeu up theii pait, eveiyone woulu neeu to iecoiu eveiything again
(Campbell 1S2). The use of sepaiate tapes also alloweu musicians to change the
sounu of paits of theii music aftei it was iecoiueu. Foi example, in the Beatles song
"Tomoiiow Nevei Knows," theie is a tiack of music playeu that was speu up befoie
it was auueu to the iest of the song. Tapes coulu also be playeu backwaius, also
known as backmasking÷the Beatles song "I'm 0nly Sleeping" contains a backwaius
guitai solo.
The entiie piocess of multitiack iecoiuing will latei continue into the uigital
age with the uawn of computeis, when moie tiacks can be iecoiueu anu ueleteu
with ease. Bespite the fact that ieel-to-ieel iecoiuing was highly successful foi
yeais, companies continueu to ielease iecoius foi the mass piouuction of
iecoiuings thiough this time peiiou, anu aie still ieleaseu as novelty items touay.
The 8-tiack, howevei, uieu out anu the closest thing to it that came latei was the
cassette tape.
In 19SS, steieo playback began to be a fascination foi many people as a iesult
of steieo ieel-to-ieel tapes, so a system was ueviseu to uo this foi iecoius by 19S7,
anu by 1968 monoauial iecoiuing was uiscontinueu ("About vinyl Recoius").
Anothei substantial contiibution to populai music anu the iecoiuing of all
music came fiom Les Paul, befoie he hau cieateu the multitiack iecoiuei. Be hau
founu that the sounu of acoustic guitais anu electiic guitais÷which weie, at the
time, the same as acoustic guitais but hau electiic pickups÷uecayeu too quickly anu
theiefoie the stiings neeueu something to keep them going. Entei Paul's soliu bouy
electiic guitai: by using his special technique, the electiifieu stiings coulu continue
to vibiate much longei (Coinwell). Saiu Paul, "What I wanteu to uo is not have two
things vibiating. I wanteu the stiing to vibiate anu nothing else. I wanteu the guitai
to sustain longei than an acoustical box anu have uiffeient sounus than an
acoustical box" ("Les Paul Biogiaphy"). Be neeueu the guitai to have a soliu bouy in
oiuei to captuie the sounu well anu ieuuce feeuback, which iesulteu in what he
calleu "the log"÷a foui-by-foui inch boaiu with a neck fiom an Epiphone guitai÷a
hollow bouieu electiic guitai÷ the stiings, anu a pickup. To make it moie
piesentable, he auueu an Epiphone guitai bouy aiounu the "log," essentially cutting
it uown the fiont anu sticking it to eithei siue. Funnily enough, the uibson guitai
company tuineu uown his invention at that time, calling it "a bioomstick with
pickups" (Coinwell). When using the electiic guitai in the iecoiuing stuuio, theie
weie moie possibilities foi iecoiuing the instiument than theie pieviously weie.
Paul's iecoiuing stuuio in 1942 incluueu a mixei with both a guitai anu tape input,
so that he coulu plug his guitai uiiectly into the mixei (Lawience 22-2S). Theiefoie
electiic guitais coulu be pluggeu in uiiectly oi a miciophone coulu be put in fiont of
the amplifiei, cieating uiffeient sounus to a musician's liking.
Along with Les Paul's invention of the electiic guitai, Paul uevelopeu new
musical techniques that changeu the sounu of iock music. Be uevelopeu extiemely
fast aipeggios, high-pitcheu anu neivous sounuing tones, echo, uelay, anu
peicussive effects of muteu ihythm choius (Nillaiu 1u9). These techniques helpeu
spui new styles in iock music as moie anu moie banus taught themselves Paul's
fingeiing techniques anu uevelopeu theii own styles anu iiffs.
As the yeais went by anu the sixties came anu went, as uiu the seventies,
eighties, anu beyonu, musicians continueu to expeiiment with new musical styles
anu inventois cieateu new electionics to aiu them. Sometimes musicians like using
the newest technology, anu sometimes they go iight back to the souice anu ielease
vinyl iecoius, because they believe analog is bettei than uigital oi they just miss the
vinyl. Electiic anu acoustic guitais aie useu alongsiue one anothei. The give anu
take of music anu technological uevelopment is nevei static: it is always changing
anu it will nevei stop.

Woiks Citeu
"About vinyl Recoius." !"#$%& 0$55"#-$%, 67'5&. N.p., n.u. Web. 1u Bec. 2u1S.
Campbell, Nichael, anu }ames Biouy. !$#8 9(& !$55: ;( <(-%$&7#-'$(. 2nu eu. Belmont:
Thomson Schiimei, 2uu8. Piint.
Coinwell, Tony. "Les Paul: A legacy of giounu-bieaking musical invention." =$%5& 2$#'95',-
="1 2'-". Woilu Socialist Web Site, 19 Aug. 2uu9. Web. 1u Bec. 2u1S.
Lawience, Robb. >3" ?9%5. @"9%, $A -3" B", C975 B")9#.D EFEGHEFIJ. New Yoik: Bal Leonaiu,
2uu8. Piint.
"Les Paul Biogiaphy." !$#8 K !$55 +955 $A L9M". Rock anu Roll Ball of Fame anu Nuseum,
n.u. Web. 1u Bec. 2u1S. <http:¡¡¡inuuctees¡les-paul¡bio¡>.
Nillaiu, Anuié }. >3" ?5"#-%'# 67'-9%: ; +',-$%. $A 9( ;M"%'#9( <#$(. Baltimoie: }ohns
Bopkins 0P, 2uu4. Piint.
Noiton, Baviu. "A Bistoiy of the Eight Tiack Tape." ="1 6"("%9-'$(., n.u.
Web. 12 Bec. 2u1S. <http:¡¡¡7uf4.html>.
!"#$%&'() +',-$%.. N.p., n.u. Web. 1u Bec. 2u1S. <http:¡¡www.iecoiuing-histoiy.oig>.
"Who Inventeu the Nagnetic Recoiuing. The Bistoiy." 2$7(&A9(. Cesaie Naichesini, n.u.
Web. 1u Bec. 2u1S. <http:¡¡¡en¡histoiy.html>.