horizontal line

A synesthetic title for a book which is a lavishly illustrated history of recorded sound, taking the reader through the four main eras of technical achievement – acoustic, electrical, magnetic and digital.

Each chapter contains a timeline of developments and a potted history of inventions, from Edison shouting ‘Mary had a little lamb’ and recording it on his phonograph in 1877, to Karlheinz Brandenburg’s work in the 1990s, compressing sound to mp3 format, leading to the current proliferation of peer-to-peer file-sharing services.

It strikes a good balance between the scientific and anecdotal, with particular inventors being singled out for stand-alone biographical sections (which sometimes leads to some duplication of information). The 850 images are mainly photos, not just of the recording and playing apparatus, but also of a plethora of fascinating album covers, labels, adverts and associated ephemera.

Curiosities abound: we have Captain Scott’s gramophone, recovered from one of his camps after his 1910 expedition and apparently still in good working order today; also a minuscule Mikiphone, the size of a large pocket watch, wound by key and with a celluloid horn that slotted on to the sound box and played ten-inch discs, unsurprisingly offering not very good sound at all.

Perhaps best of all there is the 1902 chocolate record player, a Stollwerck gramophone that played tiny chocolate discs that could be devoured after use.

Even more remarkable is that some records have survived, a compact storage compartment holding six ‘Schokoladedisken’. Perhaps some virtuous German children were more interested in feeding the soul than body.

FRANCIS MUZZU Read the full review on Agora Classica


   Read full review   


To continue reading, please upgrade to a premium account. You will have immediate full access.



Read more classical music reviews online here:



Classical Music, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing