How sound was preserved
THE SOUND RECORDERS
Besides sound generation machines the exhibition spotlights both old and new sound recording devices and the development of the storage media. The most famous object in this part of the exhibition is Thomas Alva Edison’s phonograph (1877). But MAGICAL SOUND MACHINES also pays homage to gramophones, tape machines or recording devices that are little known today, e.g. Paul Ehrlich’s ariston (1882), which uses cardboard or metal discs as its musical data storage medium.
Talking paper, first presented in Russia in 1932, records acoustic information in the form of blackened wave patterns on a roll of paper and reproduces the recordings through optical reading. The portable shorinophone (1941), named after its inventor Alexander F. Shorin, utilises another storage technique: it records sound on a 12-mm-wide strip of discarded 35-mm cinema film by cutting grooves into it with an electrically-driven ruby or corundum stylus.
In 1932, the German AEG started to get ready to mass produce a sound recording device invented by Fritz Pfleumer. In 1935, the first industrially manufactured tape recorder, the Magnetophon K1, was introduced to the public, and new models continued to be developed up to the 70s.
Transmission and Reception
THE SOUND TRANSMITTERS
This part of the exhibition focuses on those devices and machines that let generated and recorded sounds be heard at distant locations. The history of sound transmission includes the inauspicious fates of some Austrian inventors, e.g. the physicist and radio pioneer Otto Nussbaumer (1876–1930). In Graz on 15 June 1904, he achieved the wireless transmission of music, with Nussbaumer’s table broadcasting the Styrian provincial anthem as the first “hit” on the airwaves in Austria. German manufacturers were initially interested in Nussbaumer’s invention; however, it was never developed on an industrial scale.
The first radio receiver of the world (1895) can be traced back to the inventive talent of the Russian physicist Alexander Stepanovich Popov. A replica of the Popov receiver can be seen in the exhibition.
The ill-fate invention by US American Thaddeus Cahill demonstrates that ingenious Austrians are not the only ones to fail. The 200-ton telharmonium he developed between 1897 and 1906 utilised dynamos to produce sound. Differently toothed, rotating tone wheels generated sinusoidal oscillations which were transmitted into New York cafés and hotels via telephone wires. Unfortunately, this interfered with the city’s telephone network – Cahill lost his licence and went bankrupt. None the less, his invention pointed the way forward to the development of the Hammond organ.
From the speaking machine to the synthesizer
THE SOUND GENERATORS
Ever since machines began to make our ancestors’ lives easier and easier, inventors, technicians and engineers have sought to create sounds and music or to imitate the speaking and singing human voice with their constructions. Our collection of half-forgotten apparatuses – the heart of the MAGICAL SOUND MACHINES exhibition – includes for instance Johann Wolfgang von Kempelen’s speaking machine from the late 18th century; or the Theremin, which was invented by the Russian physicist Lew Termen in 1919 while he was constructing an alarm system.
In the late 19th century, mechanical, electric, and finally the first electronic sound generators found their way into the world of music. MAGICAL SOUND MACHINES shows, among others, the superpiano by the Austrian Emerich Spielmann (1928), a photo-electric instrument that was inspired by the piano but due to its complex construction never became a marketable product. Lew Termen’s rhythmicon (1932) and the Wurlitzer Side Man drum machine (1959) couldn’t set the beat of the music industry either. The instruments that sold much better were the electric organs by the US manufacturer Hammond (from 1935 onwards).
The history of the synthesizers is another success story. The exhibition demonstrates their mode of operation and allows the visitors to listen to their broad spectrum of sounds. Robert Moog’s innovations, for instance, were just the beginning – from the Max Brand synthesizer (1960) to the Minimoog (1970).