Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

01 May 2013

The Advent of Sound Recording

Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator writes:

Over the past 5 weeks, listeners of BBC Radio 4 have been treated to a series dedicated entirely to sound and its many roles in human culture over the past 100,000 years. Noise: a Human History, written and presented by Professor David Hendy and made in collaboration with the British Library's Sound Archive, has explored a multitude of subjects, from the power of great orators to the significance of resonant spaces.

Episode 25, Capturing Sound, looks at new technologies that emerged during the latter half of the 19th Century, making it possible to record and thereby transform sound from something previously transient and elusive.

The British Library has an extensive collection of both early recordings and the equipment used to record and playback these sounds. Many of the earliest machines in the collection were the inventions of Thomas Edison, the first person to design a device that could both record and playback the captured sounds.

Edison phonograph
Edison Home Phonograph (1900)

Over 350 images of recording and playback equipment from 1877 to the end of the 20th Century can be explored in the Sound Recording History section of British Library Sounds. The site also contains over 600 early spoken word recordings that bring together the voices of sportsmen, explorers, writers, politicians and even royalty.

Don Bradman, Australian cricketer - How it's Done

Amy Johnson, pioneer aviator - The Story of my Flight 

Christabel Pankhurst, suffragette and co-founder of the Women's Social and Political Union - Suffrage for Women

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States of America - Address to the Congress of the United States, 8 December 1941

This varied collection is drawn from commercial cylinders and 78rpm discs that date from the earliest days of recorded sound to the late 1950s, when LPs became the standard format for the record industry. Many of the recordings have never been reissued.

Noise: A Human History is broadcast on weekdays at 13:45 on BBC Radio 4, with a special omnibus edition at 21:00 on Fridays. All episodes broadcast so far are available on iPlayer Radio.


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