Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The first commercial recordings of birds... Bremen, Germany 1910

In 1910 the German branch of the Gramophone Company made a series of unique recordings at the Aviary of Karl Reich in Bremen. This was a very adventurous jump in the field of acoustic recording. For in this case the recordings were made onto wax masters that could not be stopped or started once the recording began. Everything was done on a single take. Just the thought of that makes it so remarkable. But the Gramophone Company was not there to record one of the canaries of the operatic stage, They were there to record the voices of birds! These first recordings were on red seal records.

The Nightingale recording was done first. In fact there were several Nightingale recordings made. Some with great results and of course a few that were problematic. Of course these birds were remarkably loud and sang a lot. It is interesting as you listen to the recording made over 100 years ago you can hear the bird bouncing around in it's cage. 

The Gramophone Company which had just changed it's name back from being the Gramophone and Typewriter Company was rightly proud of these recordings made by it's German branch and by the recording engineer Max Hampe. The process was explained in literature put out by the Gramophone Company and also by it's sister companies in other parts of Europe and in the United States. The pressings shown here are from the pressings by the Victor Talking Machine Company in the 1913-15 period. In it's description of the recording process a cage was placed directly before the recording horn and the bird was allowed to sing. It was quite amazing how much the birds did sing. The recordings were an acoustical triumph. They are remarkably lifelike and are stilled used in digital form on some bird sites. 

The following recordings were made in the 1910 to 1912 period.  They would be pressed in much of Europe till 1914 and in the United States till 1916. During the war anything German was banned. But these wonderful recordings were re-released by 1920. These recordings were the first and are still highly regarded in the field of bird song recordings. Who would have thought that one hundred and three years ago.

 A 1913 pressing of the 1910 original and first recording of captive Nightingale. These recordings were remarkable. But quite understandably were not massive sellers. Today they are quite rare. Putting the bird on a red seal record was an odd choice. This label was used for the most famous opera singers and classical instrumentalists. But for a while this Nightingale from Bremen, Germany was one of the great stars on red seal records. The Nightingale was in the company of Caruso, Tetrazzini, Melba and other singers that many would call canaries.

In this adventurous recording there is a duet. Two birds in front of a recording horn from the 1910-1912 period. All of these blue labeled Victor recordings were pressed in the 1913-15 period..Rather than being on the Red Seal the other birds were on blue label records. in which all would be in time. But this is an example of an early 1913-15 style label.

Here is the lovely song of a Sprosser (also known as a field Nightingale)

The second recording of a Nightingale made in 1910.

Lastly the song of a Thrush. Recorded in the 1910 -1912 period. Recorded before the World Wars and the dreadful destruction of the of the age in which these recordings were made.  A rare and unique series of recordings.