Recording and Playing Machines

Fixing and reproducing the spoken word were major concerns for the inventors of the phonograph in the late 1870s: ”Mr. Edison, regretting that we could not get an idea of the voice and intonations of our famous men, speakers, scholars and musicians, had the idea of keeping phonograms that would have collected their speech or their songs for future generations“ (Article in the Journal of the Exposition universelle de 1889, Paris, cited by J.Perriault, in Mémoires de l’ombre et du son : une archéologie de l’audio-visuel, Flammarion, 1981, p. 184). As techniques evolved, sound recording and playing machines went from being fair attractions to work tools, notably for typists, eventually becoming private entertainment centres for individuals.

This exhibition, drawn from the collections of nine major cultural institutions gathered in the Europeana Sounds project, offers a selection of machines that illustrate a wide range of techniques and technologies. From the days of the phonograph to the digital age, collections of machines from cultural institutions provide a thorough overview of the evolution of machines used to register and play sounds.