ML429.M34A3 789.9'1'0924 [B] 79-8444 ISBN 0-312-02044-9
HALLO. And hallo again. That seems a fairly reasonable way of starting any autobiographical book, but in this case it is particularly apt, because ‘Hallo’ was the first piece of deliberately recorded sound.
It was in 1877 that Thomas Edison, trying to improve Mr Bell’s new invention, the telephone, decided to use a short needle to vibrate at the back of the diaphragm, in place of Bell’s piece of iron. Then, as Edison later described it, ‘I was singing to the mouthpiece of a telephone when the vibrations of the voice sent the fine steel point into my finger. That set me thinking. If I could record the actions of the point, and send the point over some surface afterward, I saw no reason why the thing would not talk,’
He was right. He ran a strip of waxed paper beneath a needle, and shouted, ‘Hallo.’ When he ran the paper under the needle a second time, lo and behold, hack came ‘Hallo.’ It wasn’t exactly quadrophonic sound, but it was a start. Later that year he patented his phonograph, in which the recording groove was cut in tinfoil wrapped round a cyl-inder. He had proved that worked with the immortal line ‘Mary had a little lamb’. The recording industry was born.
Today, a hundred years on, it is a curious fact that the history of sound recording has divided itself into four almost precise quarter-centuries.
The first twenty-five years, until just after the turn of the century, were occupied by a frantic international scurrying-around, with everyone trying to find effective means of bringing the new toy to the public. It was during this period that Emile Berliner invented the flat disc that we know today, and a machine for playing it on which he called the gramophone.
But the first real breakthroughs came in 1901, when cylinder records were introduced, made of a hard thermo-plastic, and in 1904, when the first double-sided discs were issued. That introduced the second quarter-century, which one might call the Acoustic Period. The search, now that a satisfactory mechanical means of reproducing sound had been achieved, was for improvements in the quality of that sound, in techniques both of recording and of playing the records. A great deal of work, for instance, went into finding the best theoretical and practical shape for the horn, whose size and design has a profound effect on the quality of the sound reproduction.
It was still mechanical reproduction, however - until 1925, when, bang on cue, the electric era of recording arrived. Now, instead of the diaphragm physically acti-vating the recording needle, its vibrations were converted into electrical impulses to convey the message to the needle. When it came to playing the record, of course, the same thing applied in reverse.
Those techniques were refined and developed to the utmost over the next twenty-five years, up to 1950, which happened to be the year that a young innocent named George Martin joined the recording industry. It was exactly at that time that the fourth quarter-century was beginning, the era of electronic recording. That’s where I was lucky. That was where God’s timing for me was absolutely right. And that is why this book, as much as anything else, is the story of those twenty-five years of recording history.
The extraordinary thing is that the cycle is about to start all over again. As I write, we are coming to the very end of the quarter-century of recording by electronic tape. By the time this book is read, we will be into the next era - digital recording. But that is for the last chapter.