Lecture online by Dr Karin Martensen: “Sound recording: a very short introduction”

Dr Karin Martensen (TU Berlin), international partner of the AHRC-funded network “Rethinking early recordings”, will offer an online lecture under the title “Sound recording: a very short introduction” on 22nd November. An abstract and details of how to join are below.

22 November 2022 10:15-11:00 am 

Institut für Musikwissenschaft Mittelstrasse 43 – 3012 Bern Room 120 

or via Zoom: 

https://unibe-ch.zoom.us/j/ 67296551790? pwd=VVJEYjZnTFNaOFBKWi9waV liQjlRZz09 

Meeting-ID: 672 9655 1790 Password: 872318

Before 1900, anyone who wanted to listen to music either had to be able to play an instrument or sing themselves, or invite an artist into their home, or make their way to a concert or the opera. In short, there was nothing other than live performance at a fixed place at a fixed time. The sound recording, i.e. the playing of a record, provided the interested listener for the first time with the opportunity to hear music in his or her own home without it being a performance by people actually present. One can easily imagine that this must have been a revolution for the music enthusiasts of the time, similar perhaps to the revolution for us today who can play music anywhere in the world. This development of the record industry, which began around 1877, will be outlined in my lecture. And furthermore, I would like to ask: What did this new technology do to the singers who stood in front of the recording device? To what extent could technicians have a direct influence on the tonal result? 

Karin Martensen has studied musicology at the University of Hamburg. In spring 2012, she received her PhD from the School of Music in Hannover with a dissertation on Anna Bahr- Mildenburg’s prompt books about Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. From 2016 to 2019, she was research associate in the DFG-project “Technologies of Singing: Research into the Dispositif Singing – Body – Media in the Early Years of Recording”, which was conducted in Detmold. 2019 ‒ 2022: Research Associate in the DFG-funded project “Sound recording as a discoursive space” at TU Berlin/Audiocommunication. Since 2022: Research Associate in the DFG-funded project “Cultural Data Analysis of Production Cultures in Classical Music” at TU Berlin/Audiocommunication. Karin Martensen has published several articles on Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, on sound recording and on the construction of body and voice. Furthermore, she gave lectures on these topics in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA. 

Redefining Early Recordings as Sources for Performance Practice and History: Newsletter 4, July 2022 

Dear all,

We hope you are having a good start of the summer! A number of developments in the early recordings arena have taken place since our last newsletter, which we sum up in the rest of this message.

Berlin symposium covers methodological approaches to performance analysis and its technical realisations

The third symposium of the series, Mechanical technologies and their transfers. Theoretical considerations on performance analysis and its practical realisation, took place on 7th April at the Technische Universität Berlin under the leadership and organization of Dr Karin Martensen (TU Berlin), who assembled an eclectic programme that illustrated in though-provoking ways the multiplicity of approaches that can be taken when studying performance through early recordings. The symposium built up on the two previous events in helping participants identify broader challenges and issues in the field of early recordings research. Papers pointed to the need for contextual research on a range of factors pertaining broadly to both the performance and the recording process: indeed, it seems increasingly unusual for researchers to consider recordings in isolation, which is surely a positive development; of course, the difficulty might be in having access to sources as well as the ability to interpret them – which suggests that collaborative research with scholars looking at a range of contextual issues in early recordings might be a promising avenue in the future.  Similarly, while detailed analysis, by whichever means, of specific performance parameters remains necessary, the day suggested that researchers increasingly contextualize such parameters within broader questions of expressivity, tradition, and mediatization, rather than considering them as mere components of “performance practices”. You can read a full report of the symposium here.

Dates for next symposia confirmed

On 30th September we will meet at the Guildhall School of Music in London for a symposium featuring a recording workshop with a number of leading performer-scholars, followed by discussion. The programme and registration link (free to attend) will be up about a month before the event on our website, so look out for that! The dates for our final symposium have been confirmed as 19th and 20th January 2023 at City University London, and again programme and registration details will be posted in due course.

The network’s PI and CoI also organized a roundtable under the title “Practice-led Methodologies in Early Recording Research” on 2nd July at the University of Surrey, as part of the Performance Studies Network Conference. Also taking part in the roundtable were three participants in the network’s first symposium – Dr David Milsom (Huddersfield), Dr Emily Worthington (York) and Dr George Kennaway (Leeds). 

A slide from Dr Moreda Rodríguez’s roundtable contribution at Surrey, focusing on zarzuela theatres and recordings in 1890s Madrid

The PI and CoI, as well as international partner Dr Karin Martensen (Technische Universität Berlin) will also take part in a study session under the name “Investigating mediatization in early recorded artifacts” to be held on 24th August at the conference of the International Musicological Society (IMS) at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. The session will gather a range of researchers from musicology, Cultural Studies, Media Studies/Media Archaeology and Sociology of Music, and the full line-up can be seen here.

Conference: 78 rpm at home: Local perspectives on the early recording industry (Zagreb, Croatia)

Our friends at the Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Research in Zagreb (Croatia) have also forwarded us the call for papers for their upcoming conference 78 rpm at home: Local perspectives on the early recording industry, to be held from 9th to 11 March 2023 at the Institute itself and online via Zoom. This international symposium seeks to examine the production, circulation and consumption of music under the aegis of music industries in specific social, cultural and political settings. It is informed by an ongoing project on the workings and impact of three Zagreb-based record companies, active during the era of electrically recorded 78 rpm shellac records, on the local music culture of that and subsequent periods. Apart from the “big five” concept of the recording industry as a globalizing force, attuned to the “West and the rest” matrix, the symposium aims to elucidate other directions of musical flow, thus probing a rhizomatic concept of the recording industry in culture.

The deadline for abstracts is 30th September, and the full call for papers can be found here.

If you would like to share any content related to early recordings research (a new publication, a conference or seminar, a performance, etc.) or write a post for the blog, please get in touch: we will be delighted to feature it.

Redefining Early Recordings as Sources for Performance Practice and History: Newsletter 3, January 2022 

Welcome to our first newsletter of 2022 – we hope you are all having a good beginning of the year.

“Interpreting Early Recordings: Critical and Contextual Perspectives” held in Glasgow, 6th January 2022

The second symposium of the network took place at the University of Glasgow on 6th January 2022. Focusing on critical and contextual perspectives, it included four invited talks, an “open mic” session featuring short papers, and a roundtable. The contributions to symposium indeed engaged with different types of contextual dimensions (some of them innovative or unexpected), which further confirmed that early recordings are complex artefacts are best approached with a range of diverse methodological tools. The event – and, more obviously, the final roundtable – faced participants with questions about the very nature and existence and the “early recordings” research community, as well as its immediate and longer-term needs. 

You can read a report about the second symposium, as well as watch the four invited talks, here.

The image from the cover of the libretto of El fonógrafo ambulante – a zarzuela discussed by Dr Eva Moreda Rodríguez in her contribution to the symposium

Pennine Records launched with recording of Brahms’ violin and viola sonatas

We were delighted to hear about the launch of Pennine Records, a new research-based recording label set up at the University of Huddersfield – which, as many of our readers will know, is home to a vibrant community of research into nineteenth-century performance practices. It aims to act as an umbrella for a wide range of performances of historical music, seeking to go beyond ‘period instrument’ performance and ‘normative’ performances of pre-existing material and instead setting itself up as a hub for a wide range of projects in which conscious thinking has been dvoted to the intellectual infrastructure underpinning the various artistic outputs.

The label’s first launch is a recording of Brahms’ violin and viola sonatas by its artistic director, Dr David Milsom, accompanied by Jonathan Going. Milsom comments: “I wanted to consider how historical performance research – often associated with period instruments, conspicuously variant artistic practices, and other paraphernalia of what is still sometimes called ‘authentic’ performance might coalesce and combine with present-day instruments, thought, and infrastructure. The disc is an experiment in how to inject hitherto quite specialised and cloistered discussions of romantic performing practices into modern instrument performance: to lift some of the edges, as it were, of current less historically-reflective ways of playing such music, not in order to make some sort of academic ‘point’ but rather (and simply) to make a disc of personal readings, gained from my own very varied career as both modern instrument and period instrument violinist.”

The next disc will put the focus on early recordings: it will be a release of digitisations of acoustic violin and piano recordings – but brand new ones, made in order to experiment with ground-breaking research into making new recordings by old processes better to understand one of the most vivid (and also contentious) sources of historical performance evidence.

The first disc can be bought, or downloaded as open access, here.

ReCePP Historical Performance Research Group announces programmes of Zoom seminars

Newly re-cast in its original home the University of Huddersfield, HPRG is a meeting of music ReCePP postgraduates, Visiting Research Fellows, networked guests, and Dr David Milsom, the staff ‘lead’ for the group.

This term, the group is meeting on Zoom (299 452 3237; passcode 807843) for meetings as follows: visitors interested in topics are always welcome to join us! Sessions marked with asterisks are process/strategy/infrastructure meetings of limited external appeal, but others are open to all interested!

MONDAYS, 19.35 – 20.35 (UK time), on Zoom.

January 24: Rosalind Ventris [Bohemian Quartet recordings and performing practices]

January 31: HPRG meeting for action points (primarily for PhD students/fee-waivers, but open to all normal HPRG members)*

February 7: HPRG PhD students’ quick-fire PhD project summaries

February 14: Professor John Bryan [William Byrd performance]

February 28: Sandra and Johan – [PhD topic discussions]

March 14: Dr George Kennaway [Topic Theory/Performance Markings]March 28: Dr Inja Stanovic – Pachmann on Record: Digital analysis as a method for understanding early recordings

If you would like to share any content related to early recordings research (a new publication, a conference or seminar, a performance, etc.) or write a post for the blog, please get in touch: we will be delighted to feature it.

Redefining Early Recordings as Sources for Performance Practice and History: Newsletter 2, October 2021

Dear all,

Quite a lot has happened since our first newsletter back in the summer! We held our first symposium, and we have heard about a number of publications and other initiatives on the topic of early recordings – please remember that we are happy to publicize in our newsletter and blog any news you have in this respect.

Using early recordings in practice-led research held in Huddersfield in September

The first symposium of the network took place at the University of Huddersfield on 12th September, under the title Using early recordings in practice-led research. Featuring four lecture-recitals from expert practitioners, the highlight of the day was a practical workshop led by Duncan Millar (Vulcan Records) where delegates had a chance of recording their own performance on a phonograh.

An archive of the day’s proceedings can be found here – including videos of the lecture-recitals and of the workshop, as well as the digitized transfers of the performers’ recording and commentaries where they reflect on their experience of recording for the phonograph.

Report: Caruso at 100: the Legacy of an Operatic Icon. Concert Hall, School of Music, Cardiff University, 23rd September 2021

By Kerry Burkhall

The event ‘Caruso at 100: the Legacy of an Operatic Icon’ was held in the Cardiff University School of Music concert hall, both in person and as a livestream. The conference began with Dr Barbara Gentili’s (Cardiff University) ‘Caruso on Disc: the Voice of Modernity’, offering insights into the ways in which Caruso revolutionised vocal technique and created the aesthetics that we now associate with the modern operatic voice. In order to illustrate the differences in tone, Dr Gentili provided excerpts of recordings accompanied by detailed explanations of the mechanical adjustments that Caruso employed to transform his bright, Italianate beginnings into his later rich, dark timbre. The stark difference between the two was evident, however, the evolution was further exemplified by exceptional demonstrations by Adam Gilbert, Associate Artist at WNO, accompanied on the piano by Lauretta Bloomer. This allowed the audience to experience the resonant and acoustic changes which are perhaps less apparent on a recording, feeling the difference that would have been felt by his audiences in the opera houses of the early twentieth century. We were then treated to performances of four of Caruso’s recorded arias by Adam Gilbert, which filled the small concert hall with warmth and light, demonstrating the promise of this young talent.

After a short interval, Professor Alexandra Wilson (Oxford Brookes University) took the stage to present her talk on ‘Caruso’s books’. Drawing parallels with celebrities such as David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Freddie Mercury, Prof. Wilson’s talk shed light on 1923 auction of the vast collections owned by Caruso, specifically rare and aesthetically impressive books. However, it brought into question the purpose of these books to one who barely read. The talk highlighted the associations between the illusion of being a learned reader with middle-brow culture and displays of wealth. For Caruso, his humble upbringings appear to have fostered an impulse to collect and own rarities.

Next, Dr Carlo Cenciarelli offered his research on ‘Rendering Caruso: Mario Lanza as Reproduction Technology’, exploring the music of the 1951 MGM film The Great Caruso. Dr Cenciarelli demonstrated the ways in which the production of the film framed recording technology as the preservation of Caruso’s voice and legacy, as if creating a vocal afterlife, drawing parallels with the genetic legacy of his daughter. He also highlighted how Mario Lanza himself is now the next step of the evolution from a live performance of Caruso, to a reproduction of his voice through recordings, and finally, a recording of Lanza using updated technology, which could perhaps have been more authentic an experience than the original recordings themselves.

As questions were opened to the audience, a number of interesting observations were made, however, a query that encapsulated the session for me was whether Caruso was truly as special as he is now portrayed to have been or was simply a result of being at the right place at the right time. The consensus was, given his intentional development of a vocal style that enhanced the characters he was portraying, regardless of the physical challenges this presented him, he was a true genius.

New publications on early recordings

We are pleased to report on some recent publications focusing on early recordings:

The CLPGS Richard Taylor Bursary

The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society (CLPGS) has alerted us to the call for applications for their Richard Taylor Bursary programme. It is designed to fund specific eligible projects in this field, including discography, bibliography, historical studies of the sound recording industry and its products, company label research, the history of talking machines, developments of the technology and any other subject likely to increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of the lasting importance of recorded sound. Richard Taylor Bursary grants are primarily (but not exclusively) designed to encourage applications from individuals whose research forms part of an academic programme at the master’s or doctoral level.

Both CLPGS members and non-members are eligible to apply for grants of at least £500.  Grant funds can be used to underwrite clerical, travel, and editorial expenses. Applications are due on 31st March 2022.

Full details of the scheme can be found in the CLPGS’s website news section here.

“Caruso at 100” at Cardiff University

The School of Music at Cardiff University will mark the centenary of Caruso’s death with the event “Caruso at 100. The legacy of an operatic icon” on 23rd September, at 3:30pm. Dr Barbara Gentili (Cardiff University, and a member of the Early Recordings network) will talk about the tenor’s recordings, Prof Alexandra Wilson (Oxford Brookes) will talk about his book collection, and Dr Carlo Cenciarelli (Cardiff University) will discuss Mario Lanza’s biopic The Great Caruso. Adam Gilbert, young artist at the Welsh National Opera, will also sing a selection of repertoire accompanied by Lauretta Bloomer.

In collaboration with CIRO (Cardiff Interdisciplinary Reasearch in Opera and Drama), Cardiff University School of Music, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff friends of WNO

Tickets for the in-person event are free and can be booked here. The event will also be livestreamed here.   

Redefining Early Recordings as Sources for Performance Practice and History: Newsletter 1, August 2021

Dear all,

A warm welcome to the first issue of our newsletter! Some of you might have learned about our AHRC-funded research network our May conference, Early Recordings: Diversity in Practice; others might have come across it from our recent announcement about our upcoming symposium in September. However you found us, we are grateful for your support in our aim to create a space for conversation and exchange on the topic of early recordings as sources for performance practice and history.


International audience for Early recordings: Diversity in Practice 

In May, we held the conference Early recordings: Diversity in Practice – with an in-person meeting being sadly still unfeasible, we decided to distribute the sessions over three Wednesday afternoons (5th, 12th and 19th), which provided a suitable antidote to “Zoom fatigue”. We were privileged enough to host thirteen presenters coming from nine different countries, on topics ranging from theoretical and methodological considerations of mediatisation and listening to a multiplicity a case studies covering flamenco, musical theatre, Hawaiian music and the classical repertoire. You can find the programme and abstracts, as well as some of the talks, on the conference micro-site.

Fatima Volkoviskii (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) presenting her paper on early recordings of flamenco

Even though the conference was not officially part of the activities of the Redefining Early Recordings as Sources for Performance Practice and History network, it provided an opportunity to present the project and learn more about the diversity of the research on early recordings being conducted all over the world.

Introducing our Research Resources

We have also been busy updating our website, including our collection of links to research resources! One of the things that came up during our May conference was the difficulty in finding out about the increasing number of digitization projects being developed all over the world, and so we wanted to contribute to bridge that gap. If you know of any other digitized collections of early recordings, please let us know; and, similarly, if you have completed a PhD on the topic, we will be happy to link to it.

We are also interested in publishing reviews of such resources – similar in tone and scope to reviews of books that you can read in any academic journal. While such resources are of course incredibly beneficial to research into early recordings, we believe it is fundamental that they are critically appraised and contextualized, for the benefit of both the research and the sound archives community. If you would like to contribute a review of a resource, please e-mail us.

Symposium Using early recordings in practice-led research to be held in Huddersfield in September

We are pleased to announce that the first symposium (of a total of five) organized by the network will take place at the University of Huddersfield on 12th September 2021, under the title Using early recordings in practice-led research.

The presenters include Kate Bennet-Wadsworth (Guildhall School of Music), Jeroen Billiet (Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles), David Milsom (University of Huddersfield) and George Kennaway (University of Huddersfield). The afternoon of the symposium is reserved for a public work-shop on making two minute cylinders, led by Duncan Miller (Vulcan Records) and Inja Stanović (University of Huddersfield).

If you would like to attend the symposium in Huddersfield, please e-mail Inja Stanovic to book your place. A detailed programme will be published closer to the date, but we anticipate that the day will start at about 9am and finish at about 6pm.

The event will also be streamed online, on our YouTube channel and we will let you know about the details of the streaming closer to the time.

Our blog

Please remember that our webpage has a blog where we will be more than happy to publish any of your news relating to early recordings research (announcements of events, publications, concerts and recordings; calls for papers; opinion pieces, etc.). Just e-mail us to tell us about your idea.

We hope you are all having a good summer, and we’ll be delighted to meet you in person at one of our forthcoming events.

Announcement: Call for papers for online conference “Early Recordings: Diversity in Practice”

Following our successful conferences in 2019 and 2020, we have decided to organize a third one this year, which will in practice consist of short sessions to run over a series of weeks in May 2021. See below for our call for papers. We look forward to hearing from you!

We are delighted to welcome submissions for the third edition of our conference on early recordings. The previous two editions (Past Performing Practices in Contemporary Research, 2019, and Methodologies in Research and Practice, 2020) confirmed that research into early recordings, as documents of performance practice, is thriving, and our conference provide a much-needed forum for discussion around new research activities and findings in the area. This year, the conference shall address diversity in early recordings, with the conference committee welcome submissions beyond classical repertoire. The event itself, ‘Early Recordings: Diversity in Practice’, shall run online, over three half-day events on the 5th, 12th and 19th of May, from 4-7pm (UK time). This short format allows for papers and/or research snapshots to be grouped around one specific topic in the day, followed by an invited research talk and informal chats over online drinks. 

Attendance is free, and Zoom links will be shared closer to time. 

We invite scholars and performers interested in any aspect of early recordings (pre-1945) as documents of performance practice to submit 250-word abstracts for either 1) 20 minute paper, or 2) research snapshot of 10 minutes, to both Dr Inja Stanovic (i.stanovic@hud.ac.uk) and Dr. Eva Moreda Rodríguez (Eva.MoredaRodriguez@glasgow.ac.uk) by 1 April 2021.

Spanish piano rolls in Stanford Library’s Archive of Recorded Sound

Esther Burgos Bordonau, PhD (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) gave a paper on the María Jesús Casado García-Sampedro collection of piano rolls at our 2019 conference in London. In this blog post, she writes about an online exhibit she has recently curated dedicated to this collection.

The Piano Roll collection known as “María Jesús Casado García-Sampedro” is one of many that Stanford’s Archive of Recorded Sound conserves in its facilities. Although it’s not a large collection – just 54 rolls – it’s interesting because of the nature and origin of the items collected. It could be considered a “rare” collection.

Stanford’s Archive of Recorded Sound collects a very large number of piano and organ rolls from all over the world. Without a doubt, one of the most outstanding is the “Denis Condon collection” which was purchased in 2015 and marked the beginning of the Piano Roll Project, better known as SUPRA (Stanford University Piano Roll Archive). This project intended not only to keep and maintain these materials for future researchers and scholars, but also to undertake its digitization. Bringing back those old sounds and their appearance to our time is part of the goal of this ambitious project. 

During this time, the Casado García-Sampedro family contacted Stanford Librarians and agreed to donate the entire collection to Stanford University Library. This gift was immediately accepted as the Archive of Recorded Sound didn’t already have a Spanish collection. 

When examining the collection, Spanish and Latin American composers can be found as well as some classical ones. The repertoire is typically Spanish, encompassing a variety of Spanish musical genres: Zarzuelas, Pasodobles, Jotas, Lagarteranas, Peteneras as well as other Latin American musical works, such as Tangos and a typical Pericón. 

The rolls in this collection are all mechanical ones, for piano players. These were not conceived as “artist rolls”, which make them very valuable, but these rolls are also interesting as they permit learning about the music and style of a period of time, as well as habits and fashions of a given country at a certain time in its history. In fact, the date range given in the online exhibit perfectly showcases the most prosperous years of this type of support.

Through this online exhibition on the Stanford University Library webpage dedicated to the Casado García-Sampedro collection, we show an exhaustive study of the titles, composers, musical styles, publishers and main features of the entire collection. We have identified, described and catalogued all the 54 rolls together with a brief study of the collection as well as the donor’s biography. A short introductory video is included in the Chapters tab. Here we explain how the work was done with each one of the rolls and how we managed to unroll them and look at them carefully using the special device that Stanford built for this purpose. 

Also included in the Chapters tab is an explanation of the collection, the bibliographic catalogue and the biography of the donor. The user can also browse documents, pictures, all the piano rolls, and both catalogues (English and Spanish versions). In the About tab, the research Project is explained. To sum up, this is a remarkable contribution to the great sound collection of this outstanding archive as it has given life to 54 unknown Spanish/Hispanic rolls with its music audio files as well as its beautiful scanned images. Congratulations to all!


Piano Roll Online Conference

This is a message from Daniel Allenbach (Hochschule der Künste Bern):

We are excited to announce an online virtual conference on November 21, 2020 at 17:00 GMT (18:00 CET, 09:00 PST, 03:00 AEST). This half-day meeting will include condensed lectures from representative topics in piano roll study. It aims to continue the communication and collaboration sparked by the 2018 gathering, and to be a prelude to the planned 2021 conference in Switzerland. 

The conference will occur online via Zoom and will offer interactive opportunities for questions and group discussion. Topics will include the scanning and digitization of rolls, history of roll manufacturers, performance practice on rolls, and the pianola and roll performance today. Full program to be published October 1.

Speakers will include:
Heike Fricke
Neal Peres da Costa
Birgit Heise
Peter Phillips
Marc Widuch
Sebastian Bausch
Kumaran Arul

Please visit our website www.hkb-interpretation.ch/2nd-global-piano-roll-meeting

Registration (free) is now open.

We are looking forward to meet you online!


Early Recordings Conference Report

We are happy to share the Early Recordings conference report, written by Joanna Staruch-Smolec and published on RMA website:

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