Timeline of Early Turntablism, Sampling, and Real Time Audio Recording Manipulation (1900-1960)

This timeline is a work in progress and ends at 1960 because that’s near the turning point of the direct drive turntables and advent of the rise of magnetic tape as a more widespread media for recording. Belt drive turntables severely limited turntablism as a live performing and improvisational art and reel to reel type machines were still bulky and difficult to use for live improvisation. The 60s were a period of radical experimentalism in many different communities that would culminate in what we might call “turntablism” proper after the invention and wide availability of direct drive turntables.

UPDATED: 6/11/2021 (initially published 9/1/2013)

ca. 19001

  • Traveling showmen would end performances by recording a cornettist and then playing back the record at faster and faster speeds to end the show.


  • Dziga Vertov experiments with gramophone recordings while at Białystok Conservatory (?) studying music.


  • Arseny Avraamov published “Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music” in Musical Contemporary Magazine. “By knowing the way to record the most complex sound textures by means of a phonograph, after analysis of the curve structure of the sound groove, directing the needle of the resonating membrane, one can create synthetically any, even the most fantastic sound by making a groove with a proper shape, structure and depth…”


  • Stefan Wolpe Dada recital hall performance with 8 performers playing recordings of Beethoven’s 5th on Vitrola Record Players simultaneously both forwards and backwards and at different speeds.


  • Arthur Hoérée and George Antheil experimented with speed variation on record players.


  • László Moholy-Nagy published the article “Produktion-Reproduktion” in the Dutch journal De Stijl.


  • Darius Milhaud experimented with transforming recordings of voices using speed variation.


  • László Moholy-Nagy published “New Form in Music: Potentialities of the Phonograph” (1923).


  • Ottorino Resphighi and Kurt Weill included sound recordings in live performances of some of their works. Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt publishes several articles about mechanical music, many of which mention his phonogram experiments.


  • Hansjörg Dammert published “Grammophon-Konzerte. ‘Musik und Maschine’”


  • Hochschule für Musik created a research program for the manipulation of phonographic records involving Hindemith and Toch.


  • French composer, Carol Bérard, writes article about doing what we now call field recordings and discusses using them in musical compositions.
  • Shapovalov, L.E. ‘Klavishniy muzikalniy instrument’ (Keyboard musical instrument). Patent No. 14 7 79, filed 15.03.1929. Keyboard is connected to gramophone records.
  • Gribkov, M. ‘Govoriashaya mashina’ (The Talking Machine). Copyright Certificate No. 59 646, filed 4.12.1929. Optical system connected to gramophone records.


  • Hindemith and Toch create and perform Originalwerke für Schallplatte (Original Works for Disc)
  • Paul Hindemith – Zwei Trickaufnahmen (Two Trick Recordings)|Trickaufnahmen für Schallplatte (“Trick Recordings for a Phonographic Record”); Gesang über vier Oktaven (Four-Octave Song)
  • Ernest Toch – Gesprochene Musik (“Spoken Music”); Fuge aus der Geographie (Geographical Fugue) manipulated live on stage.
  • John Cage is in Berlin and is purported to have seen the concert of Hindemith and Toch’s Originalwerke für Schallplatte concert.


  • Edgar Varèse experimented with record manipulation, playing records backwards at a variety of speeds.


  • John Cage’s credo on experimental music mentions turntable as a music instrument.


  • John Cage – Imaginary Landscape No. 1 for two variable speed turntables, large Chinese cymbal, string piano.


  • John Cage – Imaginary Landscape No. 2 (First Version) for records of constant and variable frequency, string piano and percussion; withdrawn.


  • Pierre Schaeffer started experimenting with playback on the record players.


  •  John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No. 2 and Imaginary Landscape No. 3 include the turntable as an instrument; Credo in Us.


  • Pierre Schaeffer – 8 part radio opera La Coquille à planètes. Schaeffer was sound designer for the opera and used pre-recorded phonographs in real time amongst the battery of sound sources for the production.


  • Pierre Schaeffer – Études de bruits


  • Daphne Oram – Still Point for double orchestra, treated instrumental recordings, three prerecorded 78rpm discs, five microphones, echo and tone controls. Eventually replaced in 1959 with multitrack tape recording system.


  • Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry – Symphonie pour un homme seul (Symphony for a Man Alone); original composed only using phonograph machines.


  • Live performance of Symphonie pour un homme seul took place at Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris in 1950.
  • The potentiomètre d’espace, developed by Jacques Poullin as a space potentiometer to pan sounds in live turntable concerts. Eventually used for multichannel tape performances from 1951.


  • Mauricio Kagel experiments and records electronic music with turntables in Argentina.


  • Count Machuki – possibly Toasting at Jamaican Sound Systems parties.


  • John Cage’s Imaginary Landscape No. 5 for 42 phonographic records.


  • D. T. N. Williamson develops first noise reduction system for turntables.


  • Mark I RCA Synthesizer included an elaborate playback turntable and turntable lathe for doing recording that had to be manipulated in real-time by the composers.


  • Edgard Varèse – Poème électronique


  • John Case – Cartridge Music (1960) with David Tudor, the record player is modified for experimental improvisations live on stage.


  1. Frank Lambert’s talking clock (1878) may be the oldest playback device which had to be manually manipulated since some of the sound on the lead cylinder is actually recorded in reverse, the implication of which could mean the crank had to be reversed in real time to be able to hear the recorded sound in forward order. See Samartzis (2006) audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QeUOVwqDdk
  2. This timeline doesn’t include other early sound manipulation that predated music concrete such as Walter Ruttmann’s Tri-Ergon Process in recordings for radio and experimental film soundtracks during the late 1920s and early 1930s.
  3. It should be noted that the Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh’s Wire Recorder Piece (1944) preceeded by 4 years Schaeffer’s Etude aux Chemins de Fer so should be considered the an earlier example of usage of sampling in composition (see Masr, 2013). Of course, Ruttman’s Weekend (see Williams, 2019) and sound collage film soundtracks (note 2) predated both by over a decade not to mention Hindemith and Toch’s recorded record manipulation works of the same period at the Hochschule für Musik.


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Bérard, Carol. (1929). “Recorded Noises – Tomorrow’s Instrumentation.” Modern Music MMU 6.2: 28–29

Bulley, James. (n.d.). “Still Point.” James Bulley, Artist & Composer. <<http://www.jamesbulley.com/still-point>&gt;

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Clarkson, Austin. (1986). “Lecture on Dada by Stefan Wolpe.” The Musical Quarterly, 72(2), 202-215. <<http://www.jstor.org/stable/948119>&gt;

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Dammert, Hansjörg. (Oktober-November 1926). Grammophon-Konzerte. ‘Musik und Maschine’ [Special issue], Musikblätter des Anbruch, 8, 8/9, 405-406.

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Draper, Charlie. (2019, January 7). “Paul Hindemith – Trickaufnahmen für Schallplatte (1930).” Charlie Draper. <<https://charliedraper.com/articles/2019/1/7/paul-hindemith-trickaufnahmen-fr-schallplatte-1930>&gt;

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History Detectives. (n.d.). The Art Of Turntablism.” PBS, History Detectives Special Investigations. <<https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/the-art-of-turntablism/>&gt;

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Masr, Mada. (2013). “Meet The 92-year-old Egyptian who invented electronic music.” Worldcrunch. <<https://worldcrunch.com/culture-society/meet-the-92-year-old-egyptian-who-invented-electronic-music/halim-el-dabh-electronic-music-composer-quot-wire-recorder-piece-quot->&gt;

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Samartzis, Philip. (2006). “Surface Noise.” in Cat Hope and Jonathan Marshall (eds.) Sound Scripts: Proceedings of the Inaugural Totally Huge New Music Festival Conference 2005, 1: 61-65.

Scheinberg, Erica Jill. (2007). “Music and the Technological Imagination in the Weimar Republic: Media, Machines and the New Objectivity.” Unpublished Doctoral thesis. University of California, Los Angeles.

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Williams, Daniel John. (2019). “Walter Ruttmann’s Weekend: the genesis of sound collage and radiophonic art.” [The Present Continous]. <<https://tpc.home.blog/2019/01/09/walter-ruttmanns-weekend-the-genesis-of-sound-collage-and-radiophonic-art/>&gt;


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