I recently finished and highly recommend the book Repeated Takes by Michael Chanan. My main criticism of the book is that it’s large size makes you think it’s gonna have lots of cool illustrations in it. Instead, you get a conventional size text layout with blank margins so big they call to mind the immense foul grounds of the Oakland Coliseum, which have made sure the Oakland A’s have some of the happiest pitchers in Major League Baseball. So I’m pasting together a few illustrations of my own to go with a few choice morcels:
The first tells the story of some of the first composers to hear Thomas Edison’s new invention in the 1880’s.
“In London (1880’s) Edison’s English agent invited distinguished personages like William Gladstone and Robert Browning to listen to the phonograph and record their voices. The composer Arthur Sullivan gave the most prescient testimony: ‘I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the results of this evening’s experiments – astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.”
Time to sell the donuts!
“In 1941, Martin Block’s (radio program) ‘Make Believe Ballroom’ received 12,000 letters a month, and one of the sponsors, a bakery firm, reported a sales increase of more than 430,000 doughnuts per week.”
Great stuff on some of the many origins of sampling and turntable artistry:
“Pierre Schaeffer, a radio sound technician from Paris, began to experiment in ‘scratching’ records during the war and by 1948 had formulated a method of composition which freed the sonic materials from its origins. Taking sounds from different sources, from pianos to railway trains, he produced a series of short pieces by playing them at different speeds, forwards or in reverse, isolating fragments and superimposing them….”
“…in RCA’s sound film operations in Hollywood in 1936, a certain Frederick Samnis dreamed of an apparatus that would automate much of his work, a phonetic ‘Singing Keyboard’, using loops of optical sound film. Intended as a ‘special purpose instrument for making ‘talkie’ cartoons, it would have ‘ten or more soundtracks…featuring such words as ‘quack for a duck, ‘meow’ for a cat, ‘moo’ for a cow….It could as well be the bark of a dog … or the twaddle indulged in by some of our tin pan alley songwriters.’ …
… “Other people designed machines called the Noisegraph, the Dramagraph, the Kinematophone, the Soundograph or the Excelsior Sound Effects Cabinet. Some of these instruments employed discs, like Edwin Welte’s Lichtonnorgel, in which photoelectric recordings of famous European pipe organs were inscribed in concentric circles on a disc made of glass. Today this kind of machine is called a sampler, and it employs the most advanced computer technology.”
Cassettes have come to signify indie integrity in some genres in the US – but they mean something very different in many African countries:
“Cassette piracy has effectively destroyed the formerly lively Ghanian record industry, inducing multinationals like HMV and Decca to abandon the country. Pirate cassettes are said to constitute 70-80% of the market in Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Zambia, and Guinea. In Kenya, the former center of the East African music industry, the proportion is the same or even more. The phenomenon has ‘contributed to the wholesale migration of much of the legitimate African music industry to Europe, where recordings are made and marketed for emigrant Africans and Europeans.”
Cool book. Buy it – especially if you like to doodle.