Books

From Chocolate Gramophones to MP3s: The History of Sound in Images

The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles by Terry Burrows is an illustrated history of recorded sound, from gramophones to the rise of digital.

The Chocolate Record Player (1902), a Stollwerck gramophone, was a novelty toy designed to play chocolate discs. Stollwerck had been founded in Germany in 1839, and by the end of the century it was one of the world’s biggest confectionary companies. The novel idea was that the tiny (3 1/16-inch; 7.6-cm), vertically cut chocolate records could be eaten after use. This was nonetheless a working gramophone: the ornate green tin model was powered by a Junghauns clock motor (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)

In 1902, the Stollwerck confectionary company of Germany released a gramophone that played tiny chocolate discs. After listening to their tunes, users could eat the music. It was a short-lived novelty, and one of the more whimsical experiments in the sound recording and playback history chronicled in The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles.

Cover of The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles (courtesy Thames & Hudson)

The book by Terry Burrows, a music author and musician known by his alias, Yukio Yung, was recently released by Thames & Hudson. It’s a publication designed with appealing details for the titular audiophiles, from blue pages illustrated with patent illustrations dividing the four chronological sections, to high-quality photographs of objects from at EMI Archive Trust. They include archival material and some incredible rarities, like a 1905 luxury Monarch gramophone made of oak, which was given to Captain Robert Falcon Scott by the Gramophone Company and taken on the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition on which every party member died. When the gramophone was later recovered from one of the expedition’s icy camps, it was still in working order.

The Art of Sound is straightforward in its timeline of text and visuals, beginning in 1857 with Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph, the first device for recording sound, and continuing to 2015, when streamed music outpaced online audio downloads. Music technology aficionados may already be familiar with much of this history, which covers the rise of the magnetic era as well as its decline with the emergence of the compact disc, and the book seems more aimed at people who are interested in music, but perhaps don’t know about all the engineering and design history behind it. Short biographies highlight well-known figures like Thomas Edison, who invented the phonograph, as well as more unsung innovators, such as Alan Blumlein, who developed stereophonic sound and was killed at the age of 38 during a World War II airborne radar system test.

Telefunken Magnetophone CC Alpha (1967), a compact cassette unit (courtesy Interfoto/Alamy Stock Photo)

On the topic of our current listening habits Burrows notes that, “As with many other aspects of modern life, the way in which we consume music has been metamorphosed by the internet.” Vinyl still has its adherents; rarer are the listeners who appreciate the textural character of wax cylinders or the stereophonic gramophone. That hardware history is central to The Art of Sound, where each progression, from acoustic, to electrical, to magnetic, to digital, altered the way we physically relate to music.

EMI, which holds many of the artifacts in the book, was formed when the Gramophone Company and the Columbia Phonograph Company merged in 1931. If you’re hungry for more old-timey audio images, the EMI Archive Trust has a Flickr gallery of photographs from the early years of the Gramophone Company; other resources related to their collections are on their site.

Recording studio (1900), with the “mouth” of a recording horn facing the musician and a stylus at its other end cutting the master gramophone disc (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)
Pathé Le Ménestrel (1905), phonograph with a cast-iron base and cover decorated in the Louis XV style. It was licensed for exclusive sale in France by J. Girard & Cie., a Parisian mail-order company (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)
“Nipper and the Gramophone”: The “His Master’s Voice” brand began as an 1898 painting of a dog named Nipper by his owner, the artist Francis Barraud (pictured). Originally, Nipper was seen staring down the horn of an Edison-Bell phonograph. The manager of the Gramophone Company in London agreed to buy the painting if the phonograph was replaced with one of his company’s own gramophones (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)
Nirona Children’s Gramophones (1925), miniature gramophones for children began to appear during the 1920s. Some of the most interesting models were built by Nier & Ehmer of Beierfeld in Germany under the brand name of Nirona. These compact devices were designed to play discs that were 5 1/2 inches in diameter — almost half the standard size (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)
Mikiphone Pocket Phonograph (1926), a miniature gramophone that, when folded in the circular aluminum case is a little over 4 inches in diameter. It was designed to resemble a large pocket watch. It was built by System Vadasz in Switzerland, and sold predominantly in the United Kingdom (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)
Pages from <em>The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles</em> (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
A royal microphone (1923-37), a gilt-rimmed circular microphone built by Marconi-Sykes for King George V. An inscription plaque on the top of the microphone lists the royal occasions on which it was used, beginning with the opening of Liverpool Cathedral on July 19, 1923 (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)
Pages from <em>The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles</em> (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Men in white coats at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in north London, founded in 1931. Until well into the 1960s, engineers working at Abbey Road were required to wear a shirt and tie and a white lab coat (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)
Pages from <em>The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles</em> (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Radio (1930-56) (courtesy EMI Archive Trust)

The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles by Terry Burrows is out now from Thames & Hudson.

comments (0)