A large part of art, for me, is about preservation -- the keeping of images and memories. We as humans are uniquely able to identify pictures, sounds and even scents with occurrences across our lifespans. I have always been a keeper, a collector and (some would say) a hoarder.
As you know by now, music and its preservation are a big part of my life, whether it be collecting, creating or duplicating it in one form or another. Of course nowadays music reproduction is continuing to advance: smaller, faster, and offering greater capacity. But what is missing, I feel, are those tactile things: The turning of the reel, the flipping of the vinyl, the cranking of the mechanism and the watching and waiting -- the anticipation!
Today I was gifted with sensory overload in the form of a 1919 Edison Disc Phonograph. A childhood friend and mate from my wedding party, along with my brother, helped to wrestle the brass and wood behemoth down the stairs and through the labyrinth here of records, tapes and discs. The Edison came with one 78 rpm record. I have nearly 1,000 more of these brittle acetates here for it to play.
According to the Library of Congress and its History of the Edison Disc Phonograph, the spinning began in the early 1900s as competition from Victrola led the company to abandon its music cylinders.
|RCA's Victrola records were the death-knell for Edison discs. See how the arm has been replaced.|
By 1916, demand increased for console cabinets to house the disc players. The Edison Company produced a series of period models to compete with those of the Victor Company. The designer for the cabinets was H.D . Newson from the W.A. French Furniture Company of Minneapolis. Named "The Art Models," these cabinets came in English, French, and Italian period styles, as well as Gothic styles. Prices ranged from $1,000 to $6,000. Advertising for these models made it clear that the players themselves were the same as lower-priced models; the inflated cost was for the cabinet.
By the mid-1920s, Edison had abandoned its own "vertical cut" discs. This player clearly had its original tonearm cut off, and the one in use now is a replacement from another manufacturer. This was a nod to the evolution of the phonograph record:
|Sonora tonearm is not the original but plays the more common records.|
The Edison now sits next to, and towers over, its smaller and more portable competitor, the Victror gramophone. I find the Edison's sound fuller, and its tonal range more broad. The Victor gramophone is much louder, more harsh, and tinny.
All of these advances in disc recording and manufacture occurred well before my lifetime. I grew up in the stereo age, the time of the transistor, "electronic sound" and graphic equalization. Those were heady days, racing home from the record mart with something wild and loud.
For us boys -- my brother and our buddy Tom, the wedding party-mate -- none were ever more wild and loud than The Who, or the hours we spent collecting and cranking those vinyls and making those cassette tapes. These are the records that indeed allow us to tap into the soundtracks of our lives. So I thought it was just perfect that I should give my portrait of Pete Townshend in tribute to my friend, and to the Edison and all of the history that it holds, and now joins, in my library of sound.
It all happened so quickly today that I didn't have time to put a proper backing or number tag on Pete. Off the wall he came and into Tom's SUV he went, without ceremony. I promised to make good on the finishing touches later. But it's No. 50, Tom. I keep track.
|"I hope I die before I get old" -- HA!|