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. This is a companion piece to the DAW, Music Production, and Colonialism Bibliography.

It should be noted that the earliest sound to film syncronation devices were created in the 1890s (Edison and Dickson’s Kinetophone/Phonokinetoscope/Kinetophonograph prototype; the Selig Polyscope in Chicago; and the Pathé in France) and for most of the first decades of the early 20th century there was always an uneasy tension between recorded music versus live music to accompany film in Western countries. Outside of the West, and especially in colonized countries where recordings/playback systems/recording technology were exported, the story is a little different.

PUBLISHED 9/1/2013; UPDATED: 6/9/2022

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.

1902

  • Chronophone patented by Léon Gaumont in 1902 to synchronise the Cinématographe (Chrono-Bioscope) with a disc Phonograph (Cyclophone)

1905

  • Live music started to replace the “scratchy gramophone” in Russian cinema.

late 1900s-1910s

  • Western cinema with gramophone synced soundtracks shown regularly in Chinese teahouses.

1906

  • Victor Auxetophone introduced, possibly first turntable with air compressor amplifier.

1907

  • George Kemp mentions moving pictures with compressed air gramophones accompanying the film.

1909

  • Ray Newby is purportedly the first person to play recorded music over the radio

1912-1915

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

1916

  • 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…”

1919

  • Tri-Ergon sound-on-film system developed by Josef Engl (1893–1942), Joseph Massolle (1889–1957), and Hans Vogt (1890–1979).

1920

  • 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.

1921

  • Orlando Kellum introduces the Phono-Kinema (or Photo-Kinema).

1920s

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

1922

  • László Moholy-Nagy published the article “Produktion-Reproduktion” in the Dutch journal De Stijl.
  • First public showing of Tri-Ergon films in Berlin (17 September).

1922-1927

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

1923

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

1924-1927

  • 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.

1925

  • Guido Bagier directed and wrote the music for the Tri-Ergon film, Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (1925), a 20 minute short which premiered in 1925 at Mozartsaal in Berlin. Issue with sound playback equipment contributed to it being a flop.

1926

  • Hansjörg Dammert published “Grammophon-Konzerte. ‘Musik und Maschine’”
  • Warner Bros. introduces the Vitaphone (August 5).

1928

  • Hochschule für Musik created a research program for the manipulation of phonographic records involving Hindemith and Toch.
  • Phototone introduced in the UK
  • Musikon, a three-turntable console with built-in light and music stand marketed with opening line, “The finest Orchestras in the World for your Cinema, Theatre, Dance Hall, or Restaurant – and no fabulous salaries to pay!” in its trade catalogues.
  • Turntable recitals become a regular thing.

1929

  • 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.
  • Sonotone four turntable console marketed.
  • Celebritone synchronization system marketed.
  • Filmophone, Electrocord, and Powers Cinephone console systems marketed.

19302

  • 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.
  • Dziga Vertov

1935

  • Walter Winchell coins the term “disc jockey.”

1936

  • Edgar Varèse experimented with record manipulation, playing records backwards at a variety of speeds.
  • Lichttonorgel developed by Edwin Welte. First instrument to use samples stored on optical discs to generate sound.

1937

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

1939

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

1940

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

1940s

  • Pierre Schaeffer started experimenting with playback on the record players.
  • Mobile DJ scene in the UK, Bertrand Thorpe and the infamous Jimmy Savile started their careers there. Savile claimed to have been the first to use a two-turntable system.

1942

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

1944

  • 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.
  • Halim El-Dabh’s produces his Wire Recorder Piece

1946

  • Chamberlin, the first analogue sampler invented by Harry Chamberlin

1947

  • Ron Diggins, one of UK’s first mobile disc jockeys, builds his Diggola, a mobile dj console modeled on bandstands of the era which took hours of winding to function.

19483

  • Pierre Schaeffer – Études de bruits

1948-49

  • 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.

1949-1950

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

1950

  • 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.
  • Tom the Great Sebastian, one of the first Jamaican Sound System, formed by Tom Wong (bi-racial Black and Chinese Jamaican). Count Machuki was Tom’s Deejay and Duke Vin was one of his selectors.

1950-1953

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

1950s

  • Rise of Sounds System parties and mobile djs in Jamaica.
  • Count Machuki – Toasting at Jamaican Sound Systems parties.

1951

  • Phonogène (3 different types) developed by Pierre Schaeffer and audio engineer Jacques Poullin.
  • Morphophone developed by Pierre Schaeffer and audio engineer Jacques Poullin.

1952

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

1953

  • D. T. N. Williamson develops first noise reduction system for turntables.
  • Régine Zylberberg, manager of Whiskey à Go-Go (first discothèque in Paris, opening in 1947) purportedly replaced the jukebox and operated a two-turntable system herself.

1955

  • Bob Casey introduces the two-turntable system to the US.

1955-1958

  • 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.

1957-1958

  • Edgard Varèse – Poème électronique

1958

  • Early experiments with records by Arthur Kopke

1960

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

NOTES

  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.

REFERENCES

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