The Lord’s Prayer
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
May 16, 1888
This episode is not so much about the message, but the medium.
Emile Berliner was an inventor who came up with the innovation of the disc record. Until then, cylinders were deemed the best way to record analog sound, with grooves that transmitted signals vertically. Berliner’s idea in 1887 was to create a groove that spiraled inward around the surface of, first a hard rubber, then a shellac disc, transmitting signals laterally.
The chief virtue of this innovation was that it was cheaper to manufacture. As well, these new discs could be stamped out in mass profusion, without loss of sound quality. This was a big relief for performers who had to repeat performances over and over on cylinder, creating only 10 to 150 recordings at a time. Despite resistance from Edison, discs gradually overtook cylinders in popularity. Berliner’s Victor Records made money. By 1929, cylinders for recordings were no longer manufactured. The sound industry created its first obsolescent technology.
The two tracks featured here document the new technology. Again, content creators were trying to make records that would appeal to the broadest possible public – the well-to-do owners of record players as well as those who paid a nickel to listen to audio selections in “phonograph parlors” – a brick-and-mortar proto-Spotify.
Religious material was something that could be played for the edification of the entire family without raising objections – a perfect way for the technology to insinuate itself into the home. Nursery rhymes were a safe bet as well.
Berliner doesn’t have the most distinctive voice, but we can hardly begrudge him to leave his sonic mark. Thanks to him, collectors have piles of vinyl records, instead of stacks of cylinders.
The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Passmaquody Indian field recordings.