What is the history of recorded sound?

Narrated by author and singer-songwriter Cerys Matthews, this animation explores the history of recorded sound. What first enabled us to capture and replay sound? Explore how a series of astonishing innovations have revolutionised technology and impacted the way we live today.

Strange to think that it was but a century or so ago that you could only hear something once. The blast of a trumpet, the call of a bird, heard for one moment and then gone forever.

It was Thomas Edison who first truly captured sound by making it vibrate a piece of sharp metal and cut it's signature into a spinning cylinder on his phonograph of 1877. The first sound ever captured? Edison himself recited 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'. This strange machine could capture and replay sounds we can still hear today like the words of the great Florence Nightingale: 'I hope my voice may perpetuate the great works of my life'. But over time his spinning cylinder lost out to the spinning flat disc of the gramophone which used discs of zinc, then rubber, and then the superior shellac

And as we move into the 1920s the volume is turned up with the electric roar of the microphone which can turn sound into an electric current. Suddenly feebler, distant sounds could be amplified. [coughing noise] Quieter instruments like the guitar could play on equal terms with the brass blast of the trumpet. It was in this electric atmosphere that sound first came to the cinema and brought new worlds and possibilities to blind people too with talking books introduced in the 1930s.

And as we move forward we go back, then forward and discover magnetic tape recording popularised in the 1950s. Now pioneers like Les Paul and Mary Ford could layer tape recordings and make huge ensembles of voices and instruments.

Japan 1967 – the demonstration of the first digital audio recorder. It's the birth of the Digital era when things change a breakneck pace. CDs replace tapes and vinyl but are soon replaced themselves by the MP3 anyone can own a million high quality recordings and not just music; lectures, audiobooks, podcasts but then, why own anything when you can stream it?

Vinyl returns but it never left.

Sound is captured once and for all to be played with until our heart's content and may even end up in places like this the British Library's sound archive.

From the dusty days of Eddison's phonograph to the illumination of the electric era to the wild experiments of magnetic tape to today in all it's digital glory but where in the world will sound take us next?

Explore, Listen, Learn at bl.uk/sounds

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