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The New Age of Sound
sonic quality of existing radio broadcasting and records, not as merely another attempt to gratify his insatiable ego” (Mc- Ginn, 1983, p. 47).
Stokowski invited the researchers to set up shop at the Amer- ican Academy of Music where rehearsals were held, and the Bell Telephone Laboratories team accepted. Amplifiers and elaborate circuits moved from Murray Hill, New Jersey, into the Academy in Philadelphia. Soon, Harvey Fletcher was conducting listening tests and Stokowski was helping him position the condenser microphones around the room to find their optimal locations for a binaural recording. “Lis- tening monaurally gives me the sensation of the music being choked and crushed together,” opined Stokowski. “Binaural- ly, the music sounds free” (Fantel, 1981, p. TG25).
Nearly every rehearsal in the 1931-1932 season was captured on a record. But these were no ordinary recordings. Arthur C. Keller, part of Halsey Frederick’s group at Bell Telephone Laboratories that was investigating how to reduce the “sur- face noise” on traditional records, had recently created a new kind of moving coil stylus for cutting grooves into disks. It was made of sapphire, and instead of moving from side to side along the surface of a disc as it etched, it cut verti- cally. This drastically reduced the amount of wear and tear on the disc as it played and kept the phonograph needle on track (Keller and Rafuse, 1938). Several of the records had dual tracks etched by parallel styluses, and in 1979, when the original recordings were unboxed and shared with the public in a limited release, it was discovered that these two tracks were, in fact, stereophonic recordings made from two separate microphones in the practice room (McGinn, 1983). The spectral fidelity and dynamic range of these experimen- tal records were so unparalleled for their time, and it was nearly three decades before consumer technology caught up to Arthur Keller’s invention (many of the original recordings can be found online at In the view of elec- tronics columnist Hans Fantel, these records were not only the clearest of their time but served as a defining benchmark for all future recordings. “It was in the course of this project that the precise attributes and definitions of fidelity in sound reproduction were first formulated” (Fantel, 1982, p. D23).
Just as the engineers sojourned into the daily lives of pro- fessional musicians, Stokowski ventured into the realm of scientists. For him, the amplifiers and microphones that crowded the auditorium were more than foreign visitors. They were the future of nothing less than musical expression and emotion. At the 1932 meeting of the Acoustical Society
of America, Stokowski gave an extemporaneous address to the assembled crowd of physicists, psychologists, and engi- neers (Stokowski, 1932).
What are we trying to do? We who are dealing in sound. The ultimate aim is to send, to project, the finest quality of music that we can to as many people in the world. We have to find the means to do that. At present, they are imperfect and lim- ited, but as we work new horizons, new possibilities, open up before our eyes (Stokowski, 1932, p. 11).
Perfecting the technology to capture sound, with all its color and liveliness, was only part of the plan. In his speech, Sto- kowski described the technology that would decades later propel Milli Vanilli to infamy.
What if performers only looked as if they were singing, when other, more talented musicians were supplying the audio? Now, if we divorce those two, if we find the best elements of sound, the best singers....and give you that, by wired trans- mission as ideally as we can, if we separately find actors and actresses...if we synchronize these two groups the problem will be solved (Stokowski, 1932, p. 12).
Stokowski also foresaw that electronics gave the composer godlike control over sound.
For example, in the electrical instruments we now have we are able to intensify any harmonic we wish, to give any timbre. That was not possible in the old instruments. That is one possibility. But there is another. Instead of taking those concentric harmonics above the fundamental, we can take ec- centric sounds above the fundamental and intensify those in various degrees so that we shall be able to create an entirely new timbre (Stokowski, 1932, p. 13).
Now that sound was a signal to be manipulated, a medium to be sculpted, the highs could be higher, the lows lower, and the crescendos more thunderous than an orchestra of hun- dreds. Purposeful distortion liberated the creator. Listeners would reap these strange fruits, ushered into a new sonic age.
Experiments at the Academy of Music
During the 1931-1932 season at the Academy of Music, the Bell Telephone Laboratories team conducted exploratory re- search that solidified the foundations for Stokowski’s vision. Harvey Fletcher, Arthur Keller, and a team of engineers, including Edward Wente, inventor of the condenser micro- phone, and Herman Affel, coinventor of the modern coaxial cable, made efficient use of their residency in Philadelphia. The main findings from this period on auditory perspective
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