Music has been a part of our lives since the beginning of our existence. Even in the simplest of forms, we have been drawn to beautiful sounds and have tried to mimic them.
Just like everything else, music has evolved over time, but its main purpose remains the same: to create and project emotions across countries, civilisations and time. Perhaps one of the reasons that music has evolved differently around the world was the difficulty of transmitting the information.
One of the earliest known device for recording sound was the phonautograph, invented in 1857 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. It’s only use at the time was to study acoustics and only in mid 1877 Charles Cros realised that the recordings could be converted back into sound. However, Thomas Edison’s invention, the phonograph was the first one to actually be able to reproduce the recorded sound. Alexander Graham Bell has also made some improvements to the device, but only at the turn of the 20th century, Emile Berliner initiated the transition from phonograph cylinders to gramophone records: flat, double-sided discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center. This has been one of the dominant audio recording formats throughout much of the 20th century.
Engineers at AEG, working with the chemical giant IG Farben, created the world’s first practical magnetic tape recorder, the ‘K1’, which was first demonstrated in 1935. American audio engineer John T. Mullin and entertainer Bing Crosby were key players in the commercial development of magnetic tape.
Mullin’s tape recorder came along at precisely the right moment. Crosby realised that the new technology would enable him to pre-record his radio show with a sound quality that equaled live broadcasts, and that these tapes could be replayed many times with no appreciable loss of quality. Mullin was asked to tape one show as a test and was immediately hired as Crosby’s chief engineer to pre-record the rest of the series. Crosby became the first major American music star to use tape to pre-record radio broadcasts, and the first to master commercial recordings on tape.
The next major development in magnetic tape was multitrack recording, in which the tape is divided into multiple tracks parallel with each other. The first development in multitracking was stereo sound, which quickly became the norm for commercial classical recordings and radio broadcasts, although many pop music and jazz recordings continued to be issued in monophonic sound until the mid-1960s.
The first digital audio recorders were reel-to-reel decks introduced by companies such as Denon (1972), Soundstream (1979) and Mitsubishi. They used a digital technology known as PCM recording. In the consumer market, however, tapes and gramophones were largely displaced by the compact disc (CD) and a lesser extent the minidisc. These recording media are fully digital and require complex electronics to play back. Digital sound files can be stored on any computer storage medium. The development of the MP3 audio file format, and legal issues involved in copying such files, has driven most of the innovation in music distribution since their introduction in the late 1990s.
So, where is music going? What further developments have arisen and who has benefitted from them? These are all topics that we will discuss in our next encounter.
Have a delicious day!