Into lecture for sound workshop,


james beckett march 2004


Edison’s first formal invention was the voting machine, dismissed at the time as the last thing the government would want and hence useless. The machine held the structural basics for what was later to be the tin foil reproducer, or sound reproducer through the medium of tin foil. Effectively concentrating a large surface area of sound into the pressure point of a needle, the first designs were crude yet effective. It was understood prior to its application that sound is basically difference in air pressure, and, in the process of indenting a paper or malleable surface such as tinfoil, one could register sound. In running a playing needle again over the same indented groove one could reproduce (with relative quality) the original sound produced.




Cap: Seen here is a diamond playing head running through the groove of a record, basically a flat version of the original cylinder. Sound, in this case, is registered in the vinyl vertically (referred to as a ‘Hill and Dale’ incision) and produces tone created by the number of cycles or difference in playing surface per second. A groove written with a 440cycle rate will produce the equivalent of the note ‘A’ in a twelve-tone instrument, this can be referred to as the notes frequency.

In 1877 the reproducing instrument was patented as the phonograph, one of approximately 600 later patents claimed by Edison. In following lines of commercial viability, Edison had left his invention for a period, in order to explore the more lucrative directions of incandescent lighting. The reproducer was however taken through several stages of improvement by Alexander Graham Bell, namely by the use of a hard wax to replace the foil recording surface and sapphire recording needles giving the incision a greater deal of accuracy.

Capt. Marked ‘a’ in this illustration from 1890, Tinfoil proved to be a poor surface material for recording into as it could only be dented, hence unable to carry sufficient detail. The later use of wax as a recording surface would prove much more efficient as it could be cut into and easily reproduced as a casting material.



Bell was also formally termed the inventor of the telephone, a system building much like the phonograph had upon an evolution of preceding ideas. Having quite a good understanding of both sound and electricity, Bell was able to realise in practice what had been around in theory for several decades. Before having formalised ‘his’ invention in reality, he had claimed through a registration office that he would attempt certain technical lines to achieve such result. This patent registration had been filed just hours before that of a similar idea of another inventor, Elisa Gray. Bell had supposedly followed a path more accurate to Gray's filed patent, thus arriving at a functioning model able to conduct speech well in advance. This patent had been filed in 1876, one year preceding the invention of the foil phonograph.
Like the phonograph, the telephone receives difference in air pressure through a vibrating membrane of sorts. The phonograph would then register the vibration as inscription where the membrane of the phone would translate the difference in air pressure to difference in electrical current, thus enabling sound to be conveyed live over great distances. The electrical current would then be translated back to acoustic sound via another membrane vibrating in a second headset.
To arrive at accurate ideas as to how speech could be conducted Gray had been researching various technical manner, one of which was the use of electro-magnetism to induce vibrations in various secondary bodies. This had resulted in the invention of a musical instrument able to generate tones to be played over great distance through a single wire. This became known as multiple-pitch or harmonic telegraphy. Gray had made many advances in this area although others had been busy along similar lines, 25 years preceding his practice.
The economic and creative climate was at the time geared toward practical invention and the likes of unprofitable entertainment were secondary. Despite such influence, Gray had opted out from his usual development and patent registration to perform live telephonic concerts. Although the instrument allowed only one note to be played at a time with no function for additional expression, people where sufficiently amazed to attend recitals, marking the potential for a new means of listening to music.
At this time a young electrical engineer had been working on his own improvements for such a model. As a designer of the first electric typewriters, Thaddeus Cahill had devised the basics for the formation of an instrument more true to the sonic properties of a piano. This would involve the production of smoother tones, possibilities of expression through a second keyboard and the simultaneous sounding of several notes, thus allowing chords to be held. Among other innovations the machine would, in theory, also be able to produce volumes never before heard electronically.
The instrument was to be named the Telharmonium and incorporating the related infrastructure would be referred to as: “The Art of and Apparatus for Generating and Distributing Music Electrically” The instrument had proven difficult to patent as a result of its complex technical makeup. A labyrinth of explanation and correspondence with the patent officials of Washington D.C. had seemingly doomed Cahill to reside in the shadows of patents filed by Gray. With a degree in law he was able to hold his own and persisted in his registrations. Finally able to verify various degrees of uniqueness in his invention, Cahill set about constructing the 200 tonne instrument. With the backing of distinguished Washington Capitalist Oscar T Crosby, he raised enough funds to realise a version of his original design for the instrument. The income raised from the infrastructure was principally to come from the rental of each diaphragm.
“$50 per year on each diaphragm used in the parlours, dining rooms, bar rooms, billiard rooms, porches or other rooms of any hotel, restaurant, café, saloon, billiard room, lodge, club, store, depot, or other public place, in towns of more than 100,000 inhabitants.”
With such organisation of infrastructure it is clear it was believed The Telharmonium was to be a standard for the creation and distribution of live music. The fate of the proposed infrastructure would however prove quite different.
For commercial interests, the instrument had been moved to Manhattan in New York, practically in the central business district. Various sources accounting for the destruction of the Telharmonium differ although it is clear that it was popular consensus of the district that the instrument should be dismantled on account of its’ interference with phone calls in proximity. Consequently the telephone company had refused to defend the system and had annulled the contract, discontinuing use of their lines, thus deeming the invention redundant.
In the shared use of an infrastructure, that of the telephone lines, the Telharmonium had prematurely fallen from its utopian notch, leaving the Cahill company bankrupt.

To trace back around twenty years, Edison had now begun refining the phonograph incorporating the improvements made by Bell, the sapphire recording knife and hard wax. Like most of his peer inventor-entrepreneurs, it was his intention to mass-produce in order to generate great profit. Upon its first commercial arrival the phonograph had not found much popularity, as even the typewriter was still quite a novelty in the workplace. The expense of such a machine had not warranted the purchase by individuals and companies and was accordingly rented for a given period to suit the need of the consumer. The machines had taken quite some time to enter into their intended practice of the recording and storage of important messages, or for the recreational playback of pre-recorded music. The apparatus had encountered quite some resistance, in particular in the U.K. where stenographers where objecting to the presence of the machines as a threat to their jobs.


By the time the phonograph had found acceptance, Edison had marketed the invention claiming he wanted to see one in every American home. In forming his own studio-recording band, suitably named the Thomas Edison band, he had holistically begun the production of his own cylinders creating a full package fit for popular consumption. This allowed him to capitalise on all aspects of the inventions applications.

A typical recording studio would line up its musicians with an instruments proximity to the horn relating to its volume. (loudest at the back, softest at the front). Seen here is a horn being taped tightly so as to avoid its own vibration entering the recording. Loud instruments such as the saxophone would record well.

This image shows a horn spread wide across a piano at such an angle that it would probably have reflected more sound than it would have captured.

The office function of the phonograph was later to become streamlined as the ‘Voice Writer’ machine. This machine followed Edison’s preferred method of the electric driven motor, but had acoustic recording and reproduction.
Edison’s creative expansion of the invention would bring much additional profit. Evident in his pursuit of all potential avenues in exploiting the money-spinner was his speaking doll which contained a tiny playback cylinder of a pre-recorded message.

The phonograph is combined here with a crude form of image reproduction utilizing running scrolls. In a significant combination, the entry into motion picture by Edison was later to become the source of much wealth and controversy.
Edison was later to found The Edison Film Manufacturing Company, which, as an established leader in the field, had merged with other leaders to form a trust, - the Motion Picture Company. As a dominating force with Edison as a leading figure, they had applied regulations across the industry from the producer and supplier of material, right through to the theatre owner screening film. Licensing fees as well as patents filed across the full spectrum of film, cameras and projectors had ensured that no unlicensed producer or screener could pass in the practice without paying royalties to the company. This had effectively created a monopoly, repressing any activity of independent production.
Even small scale and highly secretive underground imports of stock were detected and erased drawing the independent producers into a practically dysfunctional minority. In 1915, just 7 years after the formation of the Motion Picture Company, an independent producer, William Fox, took the Patent Company responsible for the condoning of the operations to court, deeming them illegal. The court found in favour of Foxes accusations hence bringing an end to the monopoly of an industry, a significant victory in the face of the money hounding patents.
Quite ironically, these independent filmmakers would unite and move west to Hollywood to realise their own film utopia. Around the same time several landmark attempts at ridiculous patent attempts help mark the end of gold rush patenting.
This picture shows the introduction of the double-sided record. Up until this moment the record had been only one-sided. When it had occurred to a man that both sides could be used thus doubling the potential playing surface he had made the attempt to register the concept as his own, making himself beneficiary to future royalties. This resulted in a court case whereby the claim was dismissed as an inevitable evolution and hence ridiculous.

Along with an apparent disease of cash-lust circulating the likes of the Menlo Park neighbourhood, it is also quite remarkable that Edison had become quite deaf relatively early in his carrier.
In this photo from 1888, while proofing the phonograph before being sent to production, Edison is using rubber tubes which had to been inserted quite deep into the ear. Another horn can be seen lying on the table, probably used for a similar purpose of amplification. As his hearing had become worse, Edison would still be able to hear by conducting vibration through a piece of wood held fast in his rear teeth. This was a technique Beethoven had also resorted to in his loss of hearing.

As sound is basically the difference in air pressure, a body creating vibrations to produce sound through air, can also be directly conductive of sound. It is also notable in this sense that one experiences sounds differently when interpreted through the body as in comparison with the ear alone. For example ones own voice shocks when heard in a recording as it is removed from ones body, when speaking you hear your voice not only acoustically but also physically, mostly through the bones vibrating in anywhere between your throat and your ears. Although the higher frequencies are mostly filtered out, when feeling sound, ones body is most sensitive to lower frequencies.
Other than the use of a stick, it is not until recently that the idea of sound being conducted through bone been incorporated into a device as a means by which to hear. Since January of this year, the Japanese company Sanyo began sales of the first cranio-mandibular audio transmission (or bone conduction) telephone. This technology uses the skull to conduct vibration directly to the cochlea or inner ear, effectively bypassing the eardrum. The practical purpose of such a technology is in the use of mobile phones in noisy areas. What one does is press the small sonic vibrator of the phone to the forehead, cheekbone, jaw or back of the head then speak as usual. The microphone presumably works in a similar fashion.

What exactly this means for the deaf and the potential of sound to be heard without the fully functional ear is not yet clear. What is an apparent concern of the invention however, is its potentially high levels of radiation.

With both Edison and Beethoven alternative means of working could be found despite their disability. In fact a disability can be described to some extent as a blessing as in the case not only of the deaf but in that of the blind too. With many blind musicians it seems the sensitivity to sound and the ability to shape it are more present and acute as a result of a loss, or lack of a fifth sense. The use of touch is arguably second to sound in the life of the average blind person, especially in social life. The ability to judge distance, assess company held and (for example) various types of clothing worn, are all described quite accurately through sound.
Perhaps it can also be said that a person more sensitive to sound can produce constructive and beautiful sound as a result of their specific experience of them. Muhammad Dilbeg Ruzadarov is a resident of the mountainous regions of Badakhshan, making a traditional sung religious poetry,
Muhammad is blind.

For a background I quote the Dutch musical anthropologists Gabrielle van den Berg and Jan Belle.
“This poetry is connected with the Isma-ili religion of the people of this area. Isma is one of the branches of Shiite Islam which is characterised by a strong reference for Ali, the son in law of the prophet Muhammad, and his offspring. They lay strong emphasis on the inner meaning of the doctrines of Islam, represented first and foremost in the Qur’an. The importance of this inner meaning behind the exterior appearance is expressed in a great part of the religious poetry performed in Badakhshan. Other general themes of the religious poetry of the Ismailis of Badakhshan are the description of the life of Ali, praise on the imams and pand, or good advice to believers.” 1

The music is characterised in particular, through changes from a slow to quick tempo and a repetitive pattern and regular rhythm. The voice plays an important role in the culture as the narrative praise is sung in order to preserve the culture through generations. Not only through words but expression in tone and duration make the music quite unique. This could be described as the improvisational part of the narrator, conveying the texts by gesture of his own passions. In most cases the lyric, being that of religious narrative, is learnt aurally and is traditionally not a written exchange. A position which is restricted to men, the narrating musician could often make a mistake during recital and would hence follow in time with the apology, ‘ya ali madad’. As a religious narrative the ‘madahkani’ recital is reserved purely for religious occasion and extends from periods of around a few hours to performances stretching all through the night in the event of a death.


The most common instrument is the Rubab, having six strings, made of gut, processed from the skin of a sheep. The fact that the instruments strings come from an animal reaffirms the Ismailis belief that the instrument is an instrument of heaven, consequently an instrument with strings of steel is perceived as an instrument of hell and therefore unfit for religious praise. It is however accepted, that some of the more modern Rubab incorporate nylon strings.
It is recognised by van de Berg and Belle that the music has undergone centuries of various Arabic, Turkish and Persian influence although the harsh Pamir mountainous regions of Badakhshan have served to create a kind of enclosure, preserving the traditional forms from further influence. The people of Badakhshan do however form part of a split people with neighbouring relatives in the mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Chinese Turkistan.

This brings us to Mali, West Africa, and the blind duo Amadou Bagayoko and Miriam Doumbia, who had met while performing for a group of musicians representing an institute for young blind people. Like the music of Badakhshan their music is also born in a tradition of story telling and in particular in the figure of the Griot, (or story teller) in the Bambaran language. Before being colonised by the west Bambara was in fact not a written language and hence the role of the Griot vital in passing on the traditions and narrative of the people. In the form of praise for others and god as well as numerous folk love songs the Griot was and still is to some extent, a centre of Malian cultural society.
As one of the poorest countries in the world, Mali is necessarily resourceful in its distribution of music within the country. Like neighbouring countries it has, since the 70s, been circulating a cheap yet durable form of plastic cassette. Naturally the l.p. and c.d. feature as media although the tapes are cheapest and therefore most popular. Almost all local producers are available in mainly three colours of plastic: yellow, blue and brown. In the early days Amadou and Miriam released on cassette and had skyrocketed in popularity, moving to the Ivory Coast they continued to produce and had become household names.

They were later to move to France, signed to Universal Records, to record the album ‘Sou Nile Tilé’, for release on compact disc. They significantly gained weight as seen on this cover, quite literally descriptive of their own success. The music had also made a noticeable shift in style from the former simplicity of duo to that of a more full sound incorporating many other musicians.  

A point of interest here is the presence of the singer songwriter Issa Bagayogo, with a name similar to that of Amadou Bagayoko, Issa was one of the first traditional Malian musicians to incorporate the drum machine in his compositions. At first reluctant, as a result of its supposedly fake sounds, Issa later embraced the difference of sounds from machine to those organic and formed a band including two kora players as well as the renown guitarist Moussa Koné, former collaborator with the great Ali Farka Touré. Issa had notably changed his stage name to Issa Techno Bagayogo. The large-scale popularity of his music became his saviour, lifting him from a period of drug abuse, -habits he developed whist a trainee bus driver.

Although internationally available on compact disc, Techno Issa is still available in Mali on cassette. Little international music imported is released on cassette, most probably for copyright reasons, meaning that most Malian people are listening almost solely to Malian music. Exceptions would be the release of music from Mali’s immediate neighbouring countries. This to some extent describes the restricted movement of artistic material as a result of international trade laws involving taxing and the enforcement of copyright, supposedly protecting the interests of the artist. Regarding tax, the situation can be mirrored in other former colonies of France. For example: In relatively poor Cameroon, central Africa, it is considerably more expensive to buy basic appliance, such as a radio, than it is in Europe, the reason being that both the corrupt local government as well as the French government charge large tax on all import and export goods.
For this reason if something is to be taxed it may as well be cheap in the first place, very cheap
(i.e.: fake) even better -hence the flourishing of a diverse black market. Development of illegal or alternative markets can seen as a survival mechanism, affording its users a distribution of otherwise unaffordable appliance and cultural product. Although damaging to the mainstream, the underground provides access for the masses.


Contemporary Chinese piracy is under severe threat. The U.S. is suffering a great loss in trade, estimated at around 2.3 billion dollars per annum as a result of Chinese piracy. In addition to this figure the Russian black market is growing and further depleting the legitimate production and sales of licensed material. For the domestic market in Russia piracy makes perfect sense as for a generally poor populace, the purchase of a fake product is less than a quarter the price of an original.
It is at this point important to acknowledge that piracy is taking away from the pockets of the authors as well as those in the record, software and film industries, placing power instead in clandestine production.
The embrace of copyright, as displayed by Wang Lee Hom, does however seem to run contrary to a Chinese disposition, as is recognised by the journalist Graham J. Chynoweth:
“Historically, copyright law has been present in at least some form since the Tang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.). Since then, copyright law has existed somewhat irregularly and its potency has always remained a question. Although copyright law has existed de jure, the cultural norms of the Chinese society played a large role in mitigating its de facto significance. The deep-seeded yin-yang cultural concepts of Li and Fa leave the Chinese people predisposed against the concept of copyright. Mainly, this predisposition comes from the Li notions that the individual should be submerged in the collective, that the individual-society relationship should be non-competitive, and the disfavoured Fa notion that the state has control over the individual.”
Evidence of the ‘Li’ notion in practice on the level of the state can perhaps be found in a both basic and beautiful measure. The government has at present placed a ban on all its computers to use Windows or any other Microsoft software, in an action aimed to suppress further profit to the monopoly of such multinational corporations. In this case Linux is the operating system of choice.
Like Issa our next featuring pop star is not blind but does however suffer from a rare eye disease which (from so far as I can find) is an associated disease of albinism. Wearing dark glasses on stage with his almost white blonde hair, Heino was a kind of folk icon at the height of his career in the eighties in the South of Germany. Like the preceding musicians mentioned, Heino sang folk music out of love for nature, his people and his country. In a cultural form that became known as the ‘Schlager’ or ‘hitting’ song, the traditional folk music moved through generations, established as the popular music of respectful citizens. Often discredited for being nationalist and as a result fascist, his music had come under much criticism for both its content and related following. Despite these implications the music itself seemed harmless and quite beautiful. The image and aura around Heino had thus grown accordingly.
Like any other pop star Heino’s popularity was exploited for commercial profit, mostly notably in the release of video albums featuring diverse Christmas songs and beyond his control in being included into the then latest version of Microsoft Windows.

Western pop legend Brian Eno has also been active in the Windows lineage, having composed the start up sound for Windows 95. Despite the nature of such later commissions, he had begun an otherwise interesting musical career in the sixties, producing his own music as well as that of others, most notably David Bowie and the Irish pop-group U2.
Eno has recently been collaborating with singer songwriter Peter Gabriel. Aside from having been the vocalist for Genesis in the Eighties, Gabriel is perhaps best known for his work in the formation and further management of Real World Records. Real World Records produces and promotes music from mostly third world countries, generally places with neither an independent infrastructure nor an outlet for their music in western markets.
Many find the term “real world” or “world music” to be quite patronising, that is: if all formerly non- represented musicians outside the western world are now referred to as being world music (hence coming from that magnificent unified place, the world) where exactly is it that the rest of us come from? Nevertheless, having catered for the marginal on this planet, it is now the goal of Gabriel in collaboration with Eno to cater for the representation of those sitting outside the mainstream world of record labels by hosting song by song purchase on the internet, actively cutting out the middle man and giving the artist more from their work.

The title for their project is ‘MUDDA’ -"Magnificent Union of Digitally Downloading Artists", which was handed to a spectrum of players in the industry as a slim red manifesto around two months ago. With the rise of Apples ‘i-Tunes’ site for 99 cent songs, MUDDA plans to compete by allowing artists to directly upload their music, whether a complete album or not, and benefit from sales directly.


Jump back to the formative years of Thaddeus Cahill and a time when dreaming was as important as doing, this extract, comprised of two references made by the Dutch writer Reynold Weidenaar, from his book, “Magic Music from the Telharmonium”

Edward Bellamy, born in 1850, was a lawyer and newspaperman who turned to writing short stories and romantic novels in the 1870s and 1880s. He electrified the popular imagination with Looking Backward (1887), a socialist utopian novel set in the year 2000. The protagonist, Julian West, wakes from a 113-year trance in an underground chamber and becomes acquainted with the ideal of new order. Fresh in West’s mind are the wide spread industrial problems and social unrest of the 1880s, a world of unrelieved misery and widespread inequality. In the year 2000 the nation had emerged as one gigantic business corporation with the proceeds shared equally by all. There could be no relationship between individual effort and return. There was no national debt, no military, no criminal class and no taxes.

Looking backward was largely concerned with industrial economics and social organisation. As in most utopian schemes it left precious little room for the arts. Bellamy dealt with music at some length but strictly as a commodity to be purchased and distributed. Everyone in the new society learnt to sing as part of his or her general voice training. Professional musicians worked in the musical service. Music was distributed 24 hours a day to homes, which had music rooms filled with perfectly rendered performances. All were live concerts emanating from halls connected by telephone to any subscriber who would pay the fee. This cable service carried a choice of four musical programs. These were also on tap in the bedroom, each of which had a telephone attachment at the head of the bed, to provide balm for sleepless nights. Miraculously, if two persons lay side-by-side and one desired to sleep, the sound could be made audible only to the other. The two would be awaked the next morning by “inspiring” alarm music. On Sunday mornings church services by wire were offered. One prominent minister was said to preach only by telephone to an audience of 150, 000.

It is perhaps worthwhile in finishing to trace back to the late 1960’s, a time preceding the proliferation of the internet and the then still analogue telephonic lines of AT&T in the United States. It was not widely known at the time, that a handful of fanatics began exploiting a loop-hole in the AT&T networks, namely a system of signalling to central computers through analogue frequencies carried on the same lines as speech. The sending of various frequencies at very specific times and intervals would allow one, among other things, to make long distance calls free of charge. The use of one line for two functions was a cost saving measure basically requiring only half the amount of network cabling. This dual function would mean one could send the frequencies directly through the headset of any public or private telephone.    
John Draper is a pioneer come martyr in phone hacking history, a hobby borne in his meeting up with a handful of blind children whilst studying electronics in college. The kids knew of the AT&T flaw and realised it would be possible to intercept with an electronic box able to generate a series of tones. Draper built such a box, an MF’er or multi frequency box. How exactly to use it was at the time unclear, it was a crude and intuitive approach in learning the telephonic infrastructure. By trial and error Draper and few friends began mapping out the system and had become quite efficient in finding and manipulating paths.    

I quote Draper on a few of the benefits:
“Not only could you dial through internal trunk codes, but could also "Leap frog" from one switching centre to another, called "Stacking Tandems”. Other things like punching through busy signals was possible, for instance if someone's line is busy, an internal trunk code is used to "Tap into" that phone and hear conversations.”
In order to avoid any suspicious brushes with law they were to use several diversions, one example being that any 800 numbers dialled would be tabulated but not charged for, nevertheless leaving an irregularity in ones phone bill.
Only small and trusting circles would have access to the knowledge of the MF’er, -a crude DIY contraption later to be named the blue-box. In his practice, Draper had made several curious discoveries relating to the source of frequency, one being the use of a whistle to produce a 2600hz tone capable of several hacking functions. The whistles were practically free from the boxes of Captain Crunch breakfast cereals, making them easily accessible and quite a threat to the AT&T infrastructure. Thus the birth off Drapers alias, “Captain Crunch.”



During this period, very few people knew of the flaws in the system and it would take some time before someone would get caught. The hacking actions were a curiosity above a money-spinner although things were to change; -the conviction of a user had lead to a public announcement of the network vulnerability in a 1971 Esquire article, documenting the growing sub-culture. This lead to many of those involved being prosecuted and many newcomers thirsty for knowledge of the blue-box. One such person was Steve Wozniac, a young college student who, in pursuing Draper, was eager to learn and against all advice, began the production of blue-boxes in commercial venture. He produced hundreds and sold them at around $ 150 to other scholars or anyone else who would listen. Each was engraved with the phrase "He has the whole world in his hands". The money gained from his little project was later to fund a venture which was to become Apple Macintosh.

In 1972 the subsequent spread and commercialisation of the blue-box lead to a lot of users being caught and incarcerated, including Draper who had abstained for several years. Now in prison, Draper would hold classes for groups in phones hacking, educating some on the roughest elements of society in DIY hacking. Blue boxes and transmitters were supposedly quite easy to build and were sourced from butchering old radios available around the prison. Draper had provided the classes not so much for ideological reasons, but more in order to avoid being sodomised. If he taught he was respected, hence left alone.

Whilst in prison, Draper had also written the first word processing programme for the Apple Easy Writer. Still today he is involved in computers and quite ironically works in inter-net security although is unable to even register a house in his own name as a result of his past-time delving. He is currently brushing up on his German and plans to move as soon as his papers are cleared.