Sound Technology in the Victorian Era

Minnesota Historical Society

Alexander Ramsey House

Brian Heller
www.WhatTheHeller.com

We have also our sound-houses, where we practice and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation. We have harmonies which you do not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds. Diverse instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep;

likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make diverse tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which set to the ear do further the hearing greatly. We have also diverse strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and as it were tossing it: and some that give back the voice louder than it came; some shriller, and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have also means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.

We have also our sound-houses, where we practice and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation. We have harmonies which you do not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds. Diverse instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep;

likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make diverse tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which set to the ear do further the hearing greatly. We have also diverse strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and as it were tossing it: and some that give back the voice louder than it came; some shriller, and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have also means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.

~Francis Bacon

The New Atlantis, 1626!

Technological Innovations:

  • Dynamics (loud vs. soft)

  • Range of Pitches

  • 30 tons of pressure from strings

THE PIANO

100 Moving parts per key

  • Ubiquitous instrument for over 200 years
  • Increased amateur home musicians
  • Sheet music & private lesson income for pros
  • Physical & sonic presence Romanticism needed​

Impact

Harpsichord

Piano e Forté–1790

Fortépiano–1826

Victorian Square Piano–1884

SOUND RECORDING

Phonautograph–1857

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville

  • Discovered in 2008

  • To study acoustics

  • Recording only– No playback!

Optical playback & restoration by David Giovannoni (FirstSounds.org)

Phonograph–1877

("Talking Machine")

Thomas Edison

I was never so taken aback in all my life as when I discovered my crude machine actually worked!

Problems with Cylinders

Fidelity

Earliest known music recording–1888
Israel & Egypt, Handel

Big Bangs: Recording, Howard Goodall

Bal

ance

Stroh Violin & Cello

Duplication

Gang Recording

Duplication

Duplication

Duplication

Duplication

Critics

"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country.  To-day you hear these infernal machines going night and day. The vocal chords will be eliminated by a process of evolution…”

 

–John Philip Sousa

Competition

Emile Berliner Disc Recording, 1888

(format wars!)

vs.

ARTIFACTS FROM A SOCIETY IN TRANSITION

Race

Social Class

Economic Class

Manual vs. Machine Labor

Six Brown Brothers

Carry me Back to Ol' Virginny
Alma Gluck, soprano
James Bland, writer

Carry me back to ol' Virginny,
There's where the cotton and the corn and taters grow,
There's where the birds warble sweet in the spring time,
There's where the darkey's heart am longed to go.

There's where I labored so hard for old massa,
Day after day in the field of yellow corn,
No place on earth do I love more sincerely,
Than old Virginny, the state where I was born.

FIELD RECORDING & ETHNOMUSICOLOGY

Alan Lomax interview with Charles Kuralt (1991)

Béla Bartók

with Zoltán Kodály

Frances Densmore

  • From Red Wing!

  • Office of Ethnography, Smithsonian

  • First field recordings of Native Americans

  • First woman recording engineer

AMPLIFICATION?

Kind of...

Victor Auxetophone (1898)

Compressed Air Amplification

"Have you heard the auxetophone?  It is to be hoped not.  All Mr. Parsons' turbines will be wanted to take long-suffering humanity out of earshot of his diabolical invention."

Acoustic Radar!

MECHANICAL INSTRUMENTS

Player Piano

Cylinder Music Box

Barrel Organ

Orchestrions

Musical Instrument Museum
Phoenix, AZ

Euphonia Speech Machine–1845

Joseph Faber

ELECTRIC INSTRUMENTS

Musical Telegraph–1876

Elisha Grey

Keyboard with metal reeds that formed an electromagnet, making them vibrate.  

“as a novelty, was highly entertaining, though unless an almost incredible improvement be effected, it is difficult to see how the the new instrument can be of permanent practical value.”

Telharmonium–1897 Thaddeus Cahill

Upstairs...

In the basement...

The Telharmonium's Business Model

Replace live orchestras at elite hotels, restaurants, and theater lobbies...

By streaming live performances over telephone cables!

...and it worked!  Sorta.

Special Thanks

Vintage Music Co.

Andrea Kiepe ❤️

Sound technology in the Victorian Era

By Brian

Sound technology in the Victorian Era

Minnesota Historical Society

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