Please pay! 78 revolutions per minute – spin of the first record
On September 26, 1887, Emil Berliner filed his patent for the “gramophone” and the record in the USA and the German Empire. The German version was entitled “Procedure and apparatus for registering and reproducing sounds”. The technically simpler record to produce won the competition over Thomas Edison’s drum-controlled phonograph. With the electrification of the record player and the simultaneous standardization of the playback speed to 78 revolutions per minute, a mass medium emerged.
Emil Berliner (US: Emile Berliner): * May 20, 1851 in Hanover; † August 3, 1929 in Washington, DC. The inventor is considered the inventor of the record and the gramophone.
One of the first to work on the reproduction of sounds was the photographer and aeronaut Nadar. In 1856 he described a phonograph “as a box in which melodies would be recorded and remembered, just as the camera obscura records and records images.” Nadar had no interest in pursuing the idea. This was not addressed systematically until 1876 in Thomas Edison’s research laboratory. On July 17, 1877, while developing a telephone, Edison and his colleagues discovered that a writing tip on metal produces vibrations reminiscent of human voices.
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Edison only has voice recordings in mind
“Speech vibrations can be accurately recorded and I will undoubtedly soon be able to record and reproduce the human voice,” Edison noted in his research diary. Edison wasn’t thinking about music and entertainment, but rather about the connection between telephone and phonograph: “Telephone subscribers can, even if they don’t find the people they’re talking to at home, still say what they have to say and have it recorded by the absent person’s phonograph.”
The poet and researcher Charles Cros, who had a parlophone in mind, saw it more poetically. He described his invention in a poem about singing: “I wanted the beloved voices, like the cut of a cameo, to be a treasure to be kept forever, so that they could repeat the musical dream of the all too brief hour; time wants to flee “I’m holding her.”
Emil Berliner with an original gramophone and a zinc-based record.
While Cros soon stopped his experiments, research continued in Edison’s laboratory. There the phonograph was developed, which played sounds from a cylinder. This invention was significantly modified in another laboratory, that of Emil Berliner. The Hanoverian Jew had emigrated to the USA, invented an improvement to the microphone there and was able to sell the patent application to Alexander Graham Bell in 1870 for $50,000. In his laboratory he tinkered with the recording and playback process until he was able to patent the combination of a “gramophone” and a record in the USA and Germany. “The aim of the present invention is to record sound waves with a completely constant frictional resistance between the stylus and the recording surface. The recordings created in this way are then transferred to a resistant material using a special process in order to be able to produce the sounds themselves again.” The history of the record could begin.
Inaccurate patent information encouraged imitators
In addition to founding many companies, Berliner primarily worked on the carrier material for his records. First, the glass panes were replaced with zinc panes, then with hard rubber, until finally, with shellac records, the material was found with which records could be pressed in large quantities. The development of the playback devices was somewhat less fortunate: “Since his patent claims were neither very detailed nor comprehensive, the protection could be circumvented relatively easily by many imitators,” says the German Patent Office. The French company Pathé initially became the world market leader. Because of the patent disputes, Berliner had to move the Gram-o-Phone headquarters to Montreal, Canada in 1900, whereby the words “His Master’s Voice” were added to the well-known dog logo.
The world-famous logo with the dog listening to the gramophone. “The Voice of His Lord” below.
While Berliner’s records, as offered in the German Reich by the Deutsche Grammophon Society, had a diameter of 17 cm, they changed to 25 cm in 1901. In 1906, Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover had 200 record presses producing 36,000 records a day. Before the advent of the electric motor, record manufacturers stated in their catalogs the speed in revolutions per minute at which the records should be played. Early on, the average of playing time, durability of the record and recording quality leveled off at 78 revolutions. However, it was only determined exactly in 1925, when the acoustic-mechanical recording systems were replaced by electro-acoustic-magnetic systems. The starting point was the electric drive with a motor that delivered 3600 revolutions per minute. With a ratio of 46:1, the speed in the USA at 60 Hz and 110/120 volts was 78.26 revolutions, and in Europe at 50 Hz and 220/240 volts it was 77.92 revolutions.
Revolutionary tempo as a musical style name
What is interesting in terms of cultural history is the fact that the 78 speed soon came to represent not only the shellac record, but also an entire musical genre, jazz. Numerous recordings with jazz musicians were made in the large Gram-o-Phone recording studio in Montreal. This led to the musical style being defamed in an anti-Semitic manner in the inflammatory pamphlet series “The International Jew” financed by the car manufacturer Henry Ford, in addition to racist agitation, and also as a “Jewish work”. This did not affect the popularity of the 78s, quite the opposite: with the end of Prohibition, music was heard all over the country in the USA and the shellac records with the jazz musicians ended up in jukeboxes.
The tonearm with steel needle moves over a rotating 25 cm shellac record and samples the music.
(Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Holger.Elgaard)
The so-called higher art had long since made friends with the medium. As early as 1913, the Deutsche Grammophon Society recorded a complete orchestra with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and at Christmas 1928, with the release of “Archangel Gabriel Announces the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds” from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, a classical record reached a circulation of one million for the first time Piece. The avant-garde dealt with the 78s in their own way: in 1923, Lázló Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus developed an inscribed script for shellac records that were played directly and thus became probably the first DJ in music history.
Adorno was not a fan of preserved music
In 1927, the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno condemned the record player as an instrument of the middle-class family that could enjoy music but could no longer play it. This did not stop the recognized serious composer Paul Hindemith from composing a work called Trick Recordings for Schalplatte in 1930. In March 1939, John Cage’s piece Imaginary Landscape No 1 was premiered by a quartet in Seattle.
Two players played piano and drums, and two other players operated three turntables. While the first player starts a piece of music on two record players, each with 78 and 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, the second player operates a record player whose speed could be adjusted variably. The record used was a test record that psychologists used to test their patients’ perceptions of music. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, John Cage wrote the satirical piece Credo in Us, which was supposed to use a radio or a record player with works by Beethoven, Dvorak or Sibelius.
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The history of 78s is not complete without the history of collectors and enthusiasts dedicated to collecting and trading shellac records. They hoard treasures such as the National Lomitee’s speeches, which were produced in the Soviet Union when it was fighting fascism. Of course there are archived records with Hitler’s speeches to the German people, but evidence of Jewish musical culture also survives on the sensitive discs.
Vinyl records first came onto the market in the 1930s. The panels could be produced much more cheaply with PVC than with the expensive natural shellac product and shook up the market. But that’s worth a story of its own.
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