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The Virtual Gramophone
Canadian Historical Sound Recordings



Technology, whether analogue or digital, now helps us not merely record a unique musical event for later listening but also create in the studio an ideal musical event free of errors and with sounds that cannot be attained in live performance. Edison and Berliner focused on simply capturing and reproducing enough information in the original sound to make it recognizable. Their successors sought a more aurally rich and detailed sound that was free of noise and distortion. Later, they developed systems that gave greater control over the recording process, so that the final product did not depend on the chance events of an actual performance. A record producer can now assemble the various elements of the ideal event at different times, in different places. Performers have become less members of a collective endeavour and more isolated elements in an industrial process. In fact, alone in the studio, a composer can now create novel musical sounds by recording or sampling any noise, manipulating it electronically, and assembling it in a musical sequence. The line between recording, composition and performance has become increasingly indistinct.

At the same time, with the advent of MP3 files, recorded music has lost its tight coupling with a physical artifact, the record. Although for many of us songs are still "consumed" in the conventional 20th-century manner, it is now possible for music to be conceived, recorded, edited, performed, edited again, performed again and deleted without ever taking permanent material form. In some ways, a "piece" of music has returned to its original status, a brief sonic (and now electronic) event that is unique and never to be replicated.

A Short History of Sound Recording and Record Players