CSP 64 - Spring 2019

From the Phonograph to Auto-Tune...

Category: Oxy Special Collections

Special Collections

The item I chose from special collections was the original Fantasia story from the 1940’s. I picked this object because I have seen the Fantasia water show at Disney before, and it was the only object in the special collections that I was familiar with.  It has been a while since I have seen it, and I don’t remember much of the story other than the brooms coming to life, and seeing the pictures of that in the book was very cool. Also, the book seemed new, even though the tag said it was from the middle of the 1900’s.  I was wondering if the book was actually kept in that kind of condition, or if the book was fixed as it got damaged over the years. I also noticed that the book was a lot bigger than books are now, which I think shows that books have changed in the way they are made since this book came out.  The books that were super old that we were not allowed to touch were the biggest, and with this as an in between from then to now shows that books started to be printed in different styles as time goes on.

Special Collections Artifact: Minstrel Songs Old and New

I was not able to attend the class visit to the Occidental Special Collections so I made an appointment during the day to come in and meet with the Special Collections librarian and gain a little insight to some of the artifacts on my own time. When I visited the Special Collections, I was quickly fascinated by the extensive collection of artifacts Occidental held in their possession. The attendant was very helpful and brought out a few artifacts that she believed would help me garner greater insight towards the era that we are currently studying in class. I chose this artifact of “Minstrel Songs Old and New” which appears to be published by Oliver Ditson & Co. The worn cover displayed the obvious aging of the book full of sheet music. Gothic style font was popular for the 19th century also showcasing the time period the book was published. As shown above, I have selected the first song of the book called “Old Folks at Home,” written and composed by S.C. Foster. There are many features of this sheet of music that I find quite interesting at first glance. For one, the notes and rhythm can be easily decoded as it seems that the notation for music theory has remained consistent even to this date. Symbols such as half-notes and quarter notes are quite simple, yet easy to understand for any competent musician even today. One element that is excluded in this early sheet of music is the time signature at the beginning of the bars. I question the composer’s exclusion of this element as it is quite vital in today’s music to understand how the composition is counted through the measurement of certain beats.

Oxy Special Collections

Before the phonograph allowed us to capture and reproduce actual music, people used sheet music to record songs. In Oxy’s special collections, there were a number of sheet music from different time periods and of different styles, like a leaf from an early 16thcentury manuscript of church music or the scores of the Don Quixote opera. The one that interested me the most was “Harmonia Sacra,” which is a collection of church music, written by Joseph Funk in around 1860. Its unique music notation system captured my attention, as the note head were written not all in round shapes, but varied for different pitches. In fact, as I observed more closely, the note head had distinct shapes for each pitch in the scale (seven in total). These specially shaped notes were used in order to make the hymns accessible to people who didn’t learn to read music, which reveals the Harmonia sacra’s educational purpose. 

Compared to the 16thcentury manuscript which is written in four line staves and has no rhythmic specification, the music notation used in Harmonia sacra is rather simiarl to what’s used today. By comparing and analyzing these scores, one can observe the transformation of written music over time, including the evolution of the printing methods, music notations methods, etc., as well as how these aspects relate to the content and style of music under the particular contexts.  


The size of the leaf from a manuscript Antiphonary written on parchment reflects how expensive music sheets were in the past. The size was purposefully made big so in instances of church groups, they would only need to look at the one big music sheet instead of all buying each a small one. To preserve this for the future, the book that binds all the manuscripts must be tightly shut because the moisture can cause the individual manuscripts to expand. That is why the manuscripts are all bound by wooden boards with metal bosses. It can be decoded by people who have studied these manuscripts and by those who have learned how musical notations were written in the past, then convert those ways to present ways. Seeing this object in real life makes me understand exactly how big it was for the group to be able to read it. Also, with the original artifact, I can observe the intricate lines that were made with the delicate touches on the music notes. However, compared to its appearance, I was shocked by how sturdy the old music sheet was. Compared to the regular music sheets today, the manuscript is far more decorative with the colors.

Special Collections: Fantasia

The object I chose while in the special collections was a book from Disney in the 40’s, which was the Fantasia story.  The reason this object stood out to me among everything was because one of my families traditions is to go to Disneyland every year, and watching the Fantasia water show that they put on each night.  Although everything in the special collections was very interesting, this is the one I picked because it has both a historical and emotional meaning to me. When flipping through this book, I was amazed at how well preserved it was for a book nearly 80 years old.  This is especially rare since this is a book made for children, and this alone would cause most of the books to be tarnished within the first month of owning it, however this book the pages were stiff, there were no folds or markings on the pages, and the binding was in amazing condition which makes me think that the owner of this book purchased it with the intent of keeping it in perfect condition for future display.  This book also shows how Disney has changed across the last 80 years, from the much more classic Mickey cartoons into the Pixar animated shows we have today. Personally, I prefer the older style cartoons, and being able to see a story the way Walt Disney intended for it to be was a very joyous moment for me. I also found it very interesting how the pictures in this book seemed to be drawn before the story was written, since the words are shaped around the pictures in a strange way rather than the more typical style of having a picture isolated on a seperate page next to the text.  Although this may not tell as much about history as most of the other pieces in the special collections, this one had the most meaning to me, and I found it very interesting seeing how the world of Disney has changed from its original state, to how it was when I was a kid, and finally ending up how it currently is.

Radio Transcription Technology and the Rise of Mass Music

The recorded sound industry has historically struggled with a lack of technological advancements to support its growth and commercialization. The rise of radio in the 1920s was one such point, wherein entertainers and engineers had to develop new technology that could create high-quality, affordable, and transportable recordings which could be broadcast live at a later date (Museum). The radio transcription disc was created for this purpose, and although the mechanism of recording was similar to the one originally used in the Edison phonograph, its new format would be the foundation of recording technology throughout the twentieth century.  The transcription disc’s ease of use and replication, combined with the radio’s ability to broadcast its contents to larger populations than ever before, revolutionized music consumption and established the infrastructure for the contemporary mass music market.

The transcription disc’s flattened and circular form is perhaps its most distinctive contribution to sound. Although discs were not new in the late 1920s (early resin-based 10” and 12” disc recordings were introduced in 1901 and 1903, respectively), the transcription disc was the first new recording technology since Alexander Bell’s1888 release of wax phonograph cylinders to have a dramatic capacity increase (Wikipedia, Johnson). The transcription disc may have been unwieldy, in large part because of its heavyweight resin and 16” diameter, but its 15 to 20 minute recording time dwarfed the capacity of phonograph cylinders and early LPs, which could rarely record anything longer than a ~3 minute song (Museum). This larger capacity allowed radio broadcasters to efficiently store large quantities of music and to create continuous playback between songs, which vastly diversified and improved the listening experience (Special Collections). The flat, circular shape of the discs meant that a single master disc could produce hundreds of duplicates quickly and accurately (Museum). It is reasonable to say that the transcription disc made the music industry more efficient and cost effective end-to-end, helping to establish the technological infrastructure and large scale demand that would  become the foundation of commercial music sales. 

Transcription discs were built to last, but their role in the growth of the radio industry and American media justifies their intentional conservation. Initially made out of a heavy resin, and then, beginning in the 1950s, vinyl, transcription discs are not particularly fragile (Museum). In addition, the analog recording technology creates a lasting and tangible expression of sound, which means that the discs’ contents are safer than they would be in an easily-corruptible magnetic or digital format (Johnson). The main challenge will not be structural preservation, but more likely maintaining playback quality and having the necessary equipment for playback. Although the transcription disc is similar to vinyl records in appearance and function, such as the 33 1/3 rpm standard rotation speed, its playback process is unique (Museum). Whereas most records are no bigger than 12” and start playback on the outer edge of the disc, the 16” transcription disc recording begins in the center of the disc (Special Collections). As such, systems which can read and  accommodate the large disc size and playback direction should be maintained. These may be difficult to find, operate/repair, and maintain, and their obscurity today will surely hamper preservation efforts in the future. Although the transcription disc are similar to classic vinyl records in both shape and sound, its unique origins, critical role in the growing music industry, and influence on future recording formats warrants its preservation as a major milestone in manipulating sound. 

The entertainment technologies pioneered by the radio transcription disc are a critical part of American history and offer insight into how the recording industry has changed in the past and in what ways it can be improved in the future. In addition to its cultural significance, the sheer scale of the transcription disc can only be conveyed in person, and a physical examination reveals the way in which it both inspired and differed from the disc formats that were to follow. Transcription discs may be an outdated artifact by today’s recording standards, but they recount the birth of the music industry, memorialize the age of radio, and commemorate American innovation. Transcription discs solidified the presence of music in our economy and in our culture, and it has more than earned a dutiful preservation.

Works Cited

Johnson, Edmond. “CSP 64 Lecture Series”, 2019. 

“Electrical Transcription Disc (late 1920s – 1980s)”. Museum of Obsolete Media, https://obsoletemedia.org. 5 February 2019.

“Timeline of audio formats”. Wikipedia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org. 5 January 2019. 

“Special Collections Department”, Occidental College. 4 February 2019. 

Music and the Concept of the Album

When I think of the word “album,” I immediately connect it to music, to that of a musical album. I think of a collection of songs, and also usually the cover art of the album comes to mind. While my initial connection is to music, however, this concept comes from that of a collection of photos. Furthermore album art  didn’t start becoming important, as far as I can tell from seeing these artifacts, until the invention of the 12 inch LP 33 rpm records that could hold these collections of songs all on one disc. It makes sense, the connection to that of the photo album and how the terms were linked when one thinks of how an album of music used to be a collection of many songs that came from different records. These collections then could be kept together in a book in the same way a photo book, photo ‘album’ was used. When these 33 rpm records were popularized in the early 1950s, soon followed the world of the album cover art. When I think of notable albums, I think of their cover art and sometimes this is more recognizable than the album name itself. Even in today’s society with digital music albums and sound cloud music, for the most part album artwork is still essential part of the “packaging,” promotion and identification of music.

Special Collections Reflection

While observing the many uncommon items in special collections, I gravitated towards Dale’s personal scrapbook of Beatles memorabilia. I of course know about Beatlemania, but that book of articles, tickets stubs, and even a piece of John Lennon’s cigarette, is a tangible example of an infatuation I have never seen the likes of. I flipped through, coming across an article titled, “Girls, Here’s How Beatles Rate You,” and thinking I was going to be subjected to a sexist sort of article, I was happy to discover the title was an early version of clickbait! Instead, I found an interesting firsthand account of the Beatle’s impressions of the states after their first visit in 1964. They described how American girls look way older than girls in the UK, but that English and French teens have better fashion. They also say that New York City was cool, but that they were really smitten with Florida. I think this is funny, because all of my family from Ireland is oddly fond of Florida as well. The Beatles go on to argue about what made them famous in the states, John and Paul insisting it was their music and Ringo saying it was probably their haircuts. This article was a neat primary source that provides an idea of what the early days of the Beatles were like. 

Manuscript Page

This vellum manuscript leaf is a single page from what must have been a beautifully illustrated volume of text and music. The page is small, so it is unlikely that this music was set before a choir and used to aid in practices or performances. Though vellum is a tough material that clearly stands the test of time (this page is from the thirteenth century) there are still challenges with preserving such artifacts. The biggest and somewhat saddest being that often the whole book cannot be salvaged. After all, Special Collection’s giant metal bound Harry Potter book cannot even be opened due to spinal damage. (Thus rendering the contents virtually invisible since there is no way to view them without destroying the object). The book that this was separated from may be out there somewhere missing pages, or perhaps there is no longer a book, only single pages like this one scattered in academic institutions and libraries around the world. But perhaps it is better this way. A book spends the majority of its time closed in a library, and even when displayed can only show two pages at a time. Limited to one leaf, the task of choosing which page to view is eliminated as are all the hardships of preserving a bound volume. It is unfortunate that there are not a hundred pages to flip through, yet one well preserved page may be of more value than one badly preserved book- or worse, nothing at all.

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.

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 Stereograph

The stereograph was revolutionary for its time, it allowed people to be able to see 3D images. The stereograph is considered to be the original virtual reality. The stereograph could create vivid images that resembled real life. As the stereograph grew in popularity so did the accessibility to its images. These images were broken up into sets (some with as many as 10,000) with specific themes. Some of the themes were cities and countries (tourist attractions), art, nature, people, and animals. The first set of stereographic images was of the civil war. The stereograph became an instant hit when it became available to the public. Most people enjoyed the stereograph because you could travel the world from your living room. With Pictures of London, Paris, Rome, and more. People could see the world from their home. The rise in the stereograph proved that visual stimulation was a desire of the time. The stereograph was such a cultural phenomenon that people of all classes were able to own one. Today there are many advanced versions of the stereograph. All virtual reality sets are designed just like the stereograph. Both the cardboard version and the oculus rift are modern day versions of the stereograph.

Pocket Hymn Book

On Monday February 5th, our CSP went to visit Oxy’s Special Collections. The exhibit we went to see showcased real life examples of things we learned about in class like the phonograph, manuscripts, records, and more! While I found the whole collection to be riveting, this small little hymn book made for army men was what caught my eye. This little collection of hymns touched me so deeply because it conveys how important music and chants have been to society all along. In the fine print of the Preface, the publisher writes about how this books was compiled to heed the needs of the volunteers who have gone to war. These men had specifically asked to have access to these hymns. The design of the hymn book makes it very accessible and practical to carry because it is small enough to fit into a pocket. Portability is important on the battleground, when a soldier has an uncertain and nomadic existence. It’s just really moving to know, that even when these soldiers have nothing on the battlefield, they requested to have a little book of hymns to give them hope!
Luckily, I don’t think this book will be too hard to preserve for the future. It’s in pretty good shape right now. It’s clearly delicate and people should not turn through it too quickly, but the binding is still intact and it is readable. This little book is similar to other small pocket books produced today. This one is full of religious hymns, but you find a pocket book with different content and topics today.
Based on the item I choose, I don’t the experience of seeing it in person vs. online would’ve made a huge difference. I think seeing something in real time when I am able to grasp the tangibility of it and interact with it is always more special, but I don’t think it gave me a lot more information for this specific item.


This page is a leaf from a manuscript Antiphonary. Pages like this were written during the Middle Ages for choral singing. They were made very large so that whole choirs could read them. The antiphonary was one of three books used by the Divine office and the were named because of a specific element: Antiphons. Antiphons are, in general, are short sentences sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle. From the information in the Special collections room, this leaf is written on parchment paper in black and red gothic hand. It is most likely Flemish and from the early 16th century.

The history behind Antiphonal singing is very old. It is said to have been introduced into Christian worship by “one Ignatius in the first century, after he had vision of angels singing in alternate choirs” (Special Collections card). It was brought into the Latin church (Catholic) by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. The form of antiphonary used in modern times and seen below is the work of Gregory the Great in the 6th century. Not much evolution there. Professor Johnson mentioned that this one was not one of the nicer ones. I’ve attached some photos of nicer looking leafs below.

Minstrel Songs Collection

The image above is from the collection of Minstrel Songs published in 1882. Skimming through the book, one could recognize the way in which music manifests the culture of the time and place it was created. The lyrics of the songs are especially racist, though the use of stereotyped characters including Jim Crow and Dandy Jim. These characters are often portrayed as unintelligent, violent, hypersexual, and lazy. For instance, in the song “Jump Jim Crow”, Jim Crow, with a stereotypical “black” dialect, is portrayed eating an alligator. Further, they were often exclusively performed by white men using black-face. I also noticed that these minstrel songs were mostly repetitive and simple. This is arguably because such songs gain more popularity than those that are more complex and harder to sing along to. However, I also believe that the simplicity of the score reinforces its depiction of African Americans being unintelligent. These songs written way before Emancipation, reflect how African Americans were viewed in America back then. Minstrel shows were one of the few theatrical media where the mass was able to learn about the cultures of African Americans. Hence, the way these songs perpetuated these stereotypes show how music not only reflect culture but reinforces it.

More Than a Ticket Stub

Occidental Colleges infamous special collection library is home to obscure and unknown treasures alike. In the special collection, one can find century-old records, sheet music handwritten on vellum, and an Edison phonograph amongst the thousands of relics. If you are lucky, Dale Stieber the college archivist will exhibit her handmade Beatles scrapbook. The red leather bound book is occupied with newspaper clippings of news about concert release dates, new songs, and mobbed stadiums. The scrapbook also includes her indispensable ticket stub from when the Beatles played in her hometown and a one of a kind piece of tobacco from George Harrison’s cigarette. The Beatles had and continued to have an immense influence on music. The Beatles had a unique ability to speak to individuals through their music and lyrics, allowing people like Dale Stieber to commemorate her appreciation for their devotion to music. Dale’s book not only offers us memorabilia from news in the ’60s and ’70s but it reveals the culture, art, and activities that music lovers prioritized in that era. Though I personally lack a handmade scrapbook of my favorite band, I too have a collection of ticket stubs from my favorite concerts along with thousands of photos and videos. While the means of collecting memories from our favorite musicians have changed, the love and appreciation for music has not.