‘Before there were microphones’

The APRS is set to host Before there were microphones, a recording session workshop exploring wax cylinder studio techniques from the early 20th Century, on 26 May 2015.

Presented by Duncan Miller of The Vulcan Cylinder Workshop Company at Belle Shenkman Recording Studio at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London, the event will also include an optional tour of the RCM for early attendees.

Miller, who appeared in the recent BBC Four series The Sound of Song by composer and musician Neil Brand, has been making acoustic recordings on cylinder and disc for more than 30 years. Using typical machinery and methods used in the formative years of the recording industry and with the assistance of student musicians, the upcoming workshop will see Miller produce wax cylinder master records in front of a live audience.

"Depending on the performers available, we will be selecting recording horns, choosing the right diaphragm, positioning performers for the correct balance and doing numbers of tests to ensure that we are getting a result that will please the public and play well on the phonograph in the managing director’s office (the benchmark of early recording quality)," Miller explained.

"It is possible we shall cover such subjects as blasting, wax blank preparation, advance ball recorder setting, horn resonance, diaphragm resonance and sensitivity versus frequency response. We may even touch on the format wars in the relative merits of cylinders and discs. A chance to get all those questions answered as to how the cylinder and disc records that founded the industry were made in the 30-year period that preceded the introduction of the microphone."

According to the APRS, there may be an opportunity for association members to make their own recording, although this will be limited to the first two to request a spot. There will, however, be a chance for everyone to record at the end of the session when Miller will lead the audience in a ‘Descriptive Selection’ – the name given to novelty recordings of the era. Members are therefore encouraged to bring along their favourite acoustic sound effect – coconut shells, duck calls, swannee whistles, car horns are among the suggestions.

Here’s a rundown of the schedule:

6pm Optional tour of the Royal College of Music / Bar open
7pm Cylinder Recording Session Workshop
8pm APRS Chatroom in Britten Theatre bar, directly adjacent to the RCM studio
10pm Event ends

The event is free and open to APRS members, employees of APRS member companies and students of APRS member institutions, as well as MPG, AMPS, IPS, BKSTS and AES members.

For more information or to book your place, contact Francesca Smith of the APRS on 01803 868600 or admin@aprs.co.uk.