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A history of ‘The Record’ and recording Tango music
By Arnoud de Graaff

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A tango DJ who plays music with a laptop is an anachronism. DJ Jur realised this and will DJ on Friday April 10 using tango records from the vast collection of the late DJ Remi Kooij. Since records (LP’s) were removed as a major means of reproducing recorded music in the eighties, it is interesting to look into the history of recording technology and tango records.

The history of reproducible music is quite young. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a series of technological inventions and innovations led to the invention of the gramophone and music records. Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Emile Berliner were instrumental in this. The first music was recorded by Gianni Bettini in 1889.The first ‘records’ were based on the predating cylinders. Berliner realised that cylinders had a lot of disadvantages and developed the record. In the first ten years of the twentieth century the record competed with the cylinder and won.

The first tango recordings date from this period. Around 1910 Vincente Greco and his Orquesta Tipica Criollo made the first tango recordings. A famous music label of that period was Atlanta, who recorded Quinteto Augusto and Quinteto El Aleman. Also Villoldo, Francisco Canaro, Eduardo Arolas, Quinteto Polito and Roberto Firpo made their first recordings around this time.

Recording technology was innovating all the time. In 1925 acoustic recordings were replaced by electric recordings, which were a great improvement for the sound quality. At the end of the fifties stereo sound was introduced. After three quarters of a century the record retired and was replaced by the compact disc in 1982. Twenty years later it seems the compact disc is on the edge of being replaced by audio files, such as MP3.




1 Introduction
A tango DJ who plays music using a laptop is an anachronism in optima forma. DJ Jur understood this perfectly. During the Doble Ocho Festival he will use long play records to DJ on Friday April 10. These records are part of the vast collection of the late tango DJ Remi Kooij. Remi was one of the first tango DJ’s in the Netherlands. 
During his life he collected thousands of tango records. On February 9 last year Remi died. His contribution to the evolution of tango DJ-ing in the Netherlands as well as abroad, cannot be ignored. By playing his records for an audience who consist of both national and international tango dancers, DJ Jur salutes one of the pioneers of Dutch tango DJ-ing. When he was only dancing for a few months, Remi travelled with Lalo Diaz in 1992 to Buenos Aires, where the first signs showed of his obsession of collecting tango records. Remi started DJ-ing in 1993 and ended his career just a few months before he died.

In this story I will pay attention to the evolution of the medium, on which music has been recorded since the beginning of the twentieth century up until now: cylinders, gramophone records, compact discs and audio files. Furthermore, I also attempt to illustrate in what way these technological innovations played a role in the musical history of tango Argentino. The younger tango dancers may wonder what gramophone records are and how to get music from them. Older tango dancers may look back with nostalgia at times long gone. Let me introduce you into the world gramophones, phonographs, wax cylinders and shellac records.




Edison’s phonograph




2 The prehistory of recorded sound
The first experiments concerning mechanically reproducible sound took place in France. In 1857 the French Leon Scott de Martinville developed a “phonoautographe”, an apparatus which was able to transfer sound vibrations onto a root stained membrane, but which was not able to reproduce sound. Twenty years later Charles Cros developed a theoretical concept of an apparatus that was able to transfer vibrations on a soot stained glass plate. A metal stylus attached to a membrame “read” the groove and made the sound audible. He never actually built the machine; so it remained a theory. Where Cros failed, Edison succeeded. In the same year Edison applied for a patent on the phonograph (Improvement in Phonograph and Speaking Machines).

Edison’s phonograph
He was granted this patent a year later. The phonograph is an apparatus that both records and plays music. It uses a carton cylinder, which is wrapped in tin foil. A stylus conveyed the vibrations to the tinfoil and a big horn, which is connected to the stylus made the recording audible. The fidelity was low. The phonograph was developed for business use only, as a predecessor of the Dictaphone, but this was not a commercial success. Edison then decided to focus on recording music for penny arcades, which is a sort of prototype jukebox or pinball machine. The penny arcade was a huge commercial that a woman can give so much in an embrace, so that there is a really warm contact.



Emil Berliner with his Gramophone.

The first music recordings date from 1889 when Gianni Bettini decided to record musicians. Already at the end of the nineteenth century Bettini built a recording studio, where he recorded many well-known musicians of his time. The best known was the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.

Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) took Edison’s invention one-step further, by replacing the tinfoil coating by a wax coating of the cylinder (around 1880). Another great inventor (but not merely as well know as Edison and Bell) was Emil Berliner, who realized that the phonograph had some serious disadvantages. His invention of the gramophone in 1888 was a radical break with the concept of the phonograph. He used horizontal recordings (gramophone record, disc shaped), which he printed using matrixes. By doing so, Berliner built the prototype of the gramophone player, which was generally in use until the nineties, when the digital revolution resulted in compact discs (1982) and CD players.



Berliner had regularly collisions with patent offices in America. In 1899 he decided to return to his fatherland Germany (Hanover). In the telephone factory of his brother Joseph, he built the first factory where gramophone records were printed. This enterprise was the base from which years later Die Deutsche Gramophone Geselschaft would evolve, which is probably the most famous record label in the world of classical music. A few years earlier (in 1897) some of his fellow workers had gone to London and founded the Gramophone Company, which formed the basis for EMI in 1931. Berliner made several innovations on the gramophone during the first years of the twentieth century. One of his innovations was the 12-inch (30 cm) disc, which had a playing time of 5 minutes (where two minutes in those days was normal). Like so many inventors of his time, Berliner was a versatile man. He also invented the acoustic tile and was also involved in the building of the first helicopter.



3 Cylinders
But let’s start at the beginning of the history of recorded sound: the cylinder of Edison. A cylinder is a cylinder shaped carton object, where on the outside music was engraved. First on tinfoil, later on wax, which could be reproduced by a phonograph.
The first tango recordings (which date back to 1905-7) were recorded on both wax cylinders and records. From Alfredo Gobbi sr. it is known that he recorded on cylinder. The cylinder was destined to become obsolete, because in the first ten to fifteen years of the twentieth century, the cylinder was loosing ground to Berliner’s gramophone record. The wax cylinder had some serious disadvantages: they wore out too fast, they were impossible to reproduce in great quantities and also the continuing innovation in the phonograph was a minus. In many cases, older phonographs couldn’t play more modern recordings, unless that older machine was “updated”. Apart from being unpractical, this was also an expensive affair. Taking all the disadvantages of Edison’s phonograph into consideration, it is hardly surprising that Berliner’s gramophone and records became the dominant sound producing system, which remained so until mid eighties. Edison however, kept on producing cylinders until 1929. Edison wasn’t the only one who produced cylinders, but others quit that market years ahead of him. 

Edison’s Gold Moulded Cylinders (1902-1912), Amberol Cylinders (1908-1912) and Blue Amberol (1912-1929) may be the most well know types of cylinders, but also Columbia Phonograph Company, the Indestructible Phonography Company of Albany, Lambert Company (Chicago) and Palthé produced cylinders.






Edison’s wax cylinder

4 Gramophone records
It is very likely that from 1905 incidentally tangos were recorded. What is certain is that in 1910 or1911 Vincente Greco recorded tangos with his Orquesta Típica Criollo. These recordings are the first one in which a bandoneon features. On Villoldo’s “La bicicleta” (1909) the bandoneon is still absent, it still features flute, guitar and castenettes. In the following years the Argentine market for records expanded quickly. 

A well know record label of those days was Atlanta, despite its short existence from 1913 to 1917. Atlanta was a truly Argentine enterprise in almost all aspects. It was founded by the emigrant Italian Alfredo Améndola, travelled to Germany in 1912 buying the recording equipment he needed there. He hired a German technician to operate the machine and acquired a license for selling records in Argentina. The recordings were made in Buenos Aires, shipped to Germany, where the records were printed and then returned to Argentina to be sold to tango lovers. In 1917 Atlanta went bankrupt because of the First World War, which caused a Germany ship with a load of Atlanta records to be sunk by the allies. The most famous orchestras under contract with Atlanta were 

Quinteto Augusto and Quinteto El Aleman
In the first years of the twentieth century several tango musicians had travelled to Paris to make records. Alfredo Gobbi sr. and his wife (Flora Rodriguez) were among the first to go to Paris. The first tango records I know date from the period 1909 to 1916. In 1909 or 1910 Angel Gregario Villoldo recorded “La Bicicleta”. This song is about cycle race events, which at that time were a very popular sports event in both Buenos Aires and France, where in 1903 Henri Desgrange, editor of the sports magazine L'Auto, organized the first edition of La Tour de France. The recordings of Greco and Villoldo were soon followed by recordings of Eduardo Arolas, Francisco Canaro and Quarteto Polito.In the twenties gramophone records became without any doubt the dominant record format. In 1925 the acoustic system of recording was (secretly and stealthily) replaced by electric recordings, when the electro motor was introduced.

Although the new recording system was already used in 1925, it took a few years for the public to realise that something had changed. Since the moguls of the record industry were afraid that the public’s knowledge of a new system might result in great losses in acoustically recorded records, so they decided not to announce it publicly. For the alert record buyers there was however signs that something had changed. For example, the Victor records carried an inscription V.e. (Victor electronic recording). In 1927 Odeon announced that the recordings were electronic on the label. A year earlier Carlos Gardel had already made the transition from acoustic to electronic recordings. He must have been one of the first (if not the first) to do so.
In then era of records (circa 1915 till 1985) the gramophone record has been innovated several times. In the beginning the records were very breakable (shellac), later they were virtually unbreakable (plastic). Also the playing time increased considerably. This increase was made possible by placing the groove closer together and by lowering the playing speed. 78 rpm was reduced to 45 rpm in the fifties, when rock and roll experienced a worldwide boom. In the late forties the long play record (33 rpm) was launched.
At the end of the fifties stereo sound was introduced and later (in the seventies) also quadraphonic sound made an (unsuccessful) introduction on the music market. All the tango records of la epoca del oro (the golden age of tango, which lasted from circa 1939 to 1952) are therefore mono records.

5 The digital revolution
After more than half a century of faithful service, the gramophone record was replaced within a few years by the compact disc (CD).

A CD is an optical disc, which at first was used for the storage of digital data. Later it was also used for the storage of digital audio. The CD is a spin off from the by Philips - Sony joint venture developed (unsuccessful) Laserdisc. This technology was also applied in other record formats, like CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, CD-RW, SACD en SVCD. Twenty years later the CD seems to loose ground to the audio file (mp3 and other formats), which is a technology that is still evolving fast. It must be a coincidence that the rise to popularity of the CD coincides with the tango renaissance of the eighties. It is however certainly no coincidence that the digital innovations around 2000 (such as mp3 and more advanced music programs) facilitated the birth and rise of neo tango.


Compact disc (recordable)


Links about tangomusic on TEJAS TANGO

Wikepedia on tangoMusic




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