CSP 64 - Spring 2019

From the Phonograph to Auto-Tune...

Author: willackerman

Menace of Mechanical Music

In his article on the developments of musical technology and its potential, John Sousa foresees a “marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country, and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations” (278).  Sousa worried that the effects of owning a phonograph would decline if not take away the soul and emotional feelings that music provides. He argues the industry would become passionless as the accessibility of music will rapidly increase. Clearly, this has not been the case. The worldwide accessibility of music has done quite the opposite of Sousa’s prediction. The advent of the internet, mp3s, iPods, and streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music was revolutionary – as was the phonograph – and has provided more passion and soul for artists and listeners. The widespread use of such technological advancements today has made it impossible to imagine a world in which they did not exist. With regards to live music,  I believe the effect that live performances has on us is completely situational. A rap concert has a completely opposite atmosphere as an orchestral ensemble in that the energy of a performance is indicative of the audience’s soul connection to the music. For certain types of music, I think the audience would not realize a change if one replaced a live performer with a recording of their music. After all, some artists lip sync in concerts all the time. 

The Beatles’ Innovative Album Art

The Beatles played a massive role in leading the designing revolution of album art. Shown above are two album covers released by The Beatles: “Meet The Beatles!” (on the left) was released in 1964, and “Revolver” (on the right) was released in 1966. “Meet the Beatles!” is a classic example of what album art looked like at the time. Displayed is a standard image of the band’s members with the title of the album presented in bold text at the top. It seems as if the album begs the viewer to acknowledge and appreciate the band. Juxtapose this with “Revolver”, the album on the right. The Beatles hired Klaus Voormann, a prominent German artist at the time, to design this cover. This was at the dawn of the psychedelic era, and Voormann knew that he needed to create something completely original yet borderline bizarre to really stand out. Voormann was influenced by the last song in the album called “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The use of tape loops, backward recording and Ringo Starr’s hypnotic drumming helped create a “psychedelic vibe” for Voormann. Colorless and distinctively abstract, the cover art to “Revolver” earned Voormann a Grammy for Best Album Cover in 1966, and has been consistently ranked as The Beatles’ best album cover since.

Phonograph Parties & Preserving Voices

I found it quite interesting, though predictable, that a phonograph party would provide such entertainment and bewilderment as it did in 1900. As seen in the story with Mr. Openeer, the widespread attraction to the phonograph was instantaneous. I described the phonograph party as predictable because it is clear through the peoples’ reactions that the phonograph was the most advanced technology at the time. The music playback was described as “loud and clear” (136), however after watching a phonograph video in class we could all tell that the playback volume was mediocre at best and fairly scratchy. To host a phonograph party today would be quite different. Rather than admiring incredible technology, we would wonder how the most advanced technology was as primitive as a phonograph in 1900 when compared to our devices today.

The idea of preserving voices in a wax cylinder was very popular when the phonograph first came out. From recording passed family members’ voices to recording famous speeches of politicians, the preservation of voices was certainly an appeal. As in the story, one could play a recording of a passed family member and listen to their laughs and voices, and it would seem as if that person was in the room next to them. In this sense, Thomas Edison’s prediction was correct in so that the preservation of voices is a better way of remembering the past than the use of photographs. Today, we don’t necessarily listen to recordings of people talking unless it is of a podcast, speech, or audio book.