CSP 64 - Spring 2019

From the Phonograph to Auto-Tune...

Author: adolan

The Menace of Mechanical Music

John Philip Sousa, being a famous live musician and composer, asserts that recorded music would be the degradation of the music industry. As someone so deeply involved in the field of music, the idea of marketing and reproducing music in any sort of lower quality than live strikes him as wrong and a step backwards for the industry. With the quality of phonographs at that time, Sousa’s prediction is not totally off-base. The introduction of phonographs changed how music was thought of and produced to a more economically motivated mindset. Sousa was a strong believer in music as an emotional release, an outlet in which an artist is solely motivated by their own experiences rather than the monetary gain they would receive. Sousa is correct in that there is a rise in music with less of a emotional connection and more of just catchy tunes and lighthearted content. However, he automatically assumes that this is the end of music as an art, which is not true. Instead, the music industry was expanded to include music as an art as well as music for fun, and include live music as well as recorded and reproduced music. While Sousa’s fears were not completely unfounded, he lacked the foresight to see how music could evolve into something much larger than it had been for centuries.

The Album

With so many technological advancements in recorded sound, it can seem hard to draw any similarities between modern audio and the early beginnings of the phonograph. The physical forms of audio evolved from cylinders to discs, from records to CDs, but the jump from CDs to mp3s and streaming services seemingly distances modern audio further from its origins.

However, pieces of the past still exist in forms of aspects such as the term “album.” The term album was first coined to mirror that of photo albums, creating record albums as a way to group together separate records. The records at the time were 78 rpms, and thus could not contain more than a few minutes of recording per side, limiting records to about two songs a piece. As technology evolved into the larger LP versions of records, multiple songs could fit on each side, and artists could then release complete “albums” as one disc. The word album remained commonplace as music advanced into CD and tape forms of audio. Today, music remains organized into albums regardless of form, whether it be a CD, a record, or just available for streaming. While the music industry seems far more complex and evolved than it began as, there still remain cultural and technical ties to the origin of recorded audio.

The Opeener Papers

The Opeener’s phonograph party is a party unique to its time. At that time, phonographs were of the most advanced technology, and some people had the privilege of owning them or having access to them. In modern times, our most advanced sound recording equipment rests almost exclusively in the hands of professionals within the field. A modern version of a phonograph party would exist only among either musical professionals or the rich elite who could acquire the equipment. The most similar a modern phonograph party could get to the accessibility of the Opeeners’ party is using more widespread technology such as smartphones.

While one could throw a modern phonograph party with similarities to the original ones, the sense of awe and amazement that the original parties possesed would be lacking significantly. The excitement and thrill surrounding the invention is what truly made these parties as fascinating as they were, and without it, the party is merely just a party with music. Our modern society is saturated in recorded sound from podcasts, to music, to audiobooks. Recorded sound has grown and advanced exponentially since the phonograph to the point where there is virtually nothing that can bring that same sense of newness and shock as instantly as a phonograph could, which begs the question of where we can advance in order to restore that amazement.