Recording History Available Online

Theo Wangemann (center), phonograph recording in Edison Laboratory Music Room, circa May 1905. Notice several different recording horns.(Photo: National Park Service archives)
Theo Wangemann (center), phonograph recording in Edison Laboratory Music Room, circa May 1905. Notice several different recording horns.(Photo: National Park Service archives)

Most of us avoid old recordings because of issues with quality, condition, or convenience.  Some recordings, however, are a window into the past through which we hear new things.

When I first got into radio, I marveled that I was sitting in a little room and people in the next state were listening.  Now I marvel that people are listening on another continent.

In 1888, when Thomas Edison was in the early stages of developing what would become the phonograph, he hired Theo Wangemann as the world’s first professional sound recordist. His job was to produce a set of musical recordings for the wax cylinder phonograph.

Wangemann is probably best-known for recording Johannes Brahms during that two-year period (1888-89) in which he worked at Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey laboratory.  There are a number of his recordings now available at the touch of a button through The National Park Service.  One of the most prominent performers I ran across was Alfred Grunfeld, who knew Brahms, Strauss and Leschetizky.  Apparently, the experience of recording with Wangemann would so intrigue Grunfeld, that he would go on to record quite extensively as the turn of the century approached.

My thanks to David Blum at Battelle Memorial Institute for bringing these to my attention.

Hear recordings made by Theo Wangemann here.

In Music, Expect the Unexpected…at Least with Bobby McFerrin

If you only measure Bobby McFerrin by “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” you can appreciate a small portion of his talent.  If you listen to him improvise on J.S. Bach, you begin to understand the scope of this man’s abilities and his understanding of music.

When you make music with your body, like Bobby McFerrin does, you become the music.

His talent and insight into music as both art and science led to an invitation to the World Science Festival looking at the Power of the Pentatonic Scale.  In the video below, he takes a fascinating look at our musical expectations, giving a little insight into how composers oftentimes use those expectations to surprise us.

Read No Expectations (New Music Box)

Music Catalog Acquisitions May Alter Digital Universe…Stifle Innovation

Record labels disappear…independent labels spring up…orchestras publish their own recordings.  The only constant is a state of flux in the recording industry.

With Universal Music Group wanting to acquire the EMI catalog, reducing the number of major labels from four to three,  another sea-change may be about to occur.

As one would expect, Universal is excited at the prospect…but this may put a real damper on those providing streaming services, hamper new music company startups, and artists may find it even more difficult to make any money by allowing services to use their music.

Read How Digital Music Innovation will Suffer if Universal Acquires EMI (readwriteweb.com)

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