From the first recordings made on tinfoil in 1877 to the last produced on celluloid in 1929, cylinders spanned a half-century of technological development in sound recording. As documents of American cultural history and musical style, cylinders serve as an audible witness to the sounds and songs through which typical audiences first encountered the recorded human voice. And for those living at the turn of the 20th century, the most likely source of recorded sound on cylinders would have been Thomas Alva Edison’s crowning achievement, the phonograph. Edison wasn’t the only one in the sound recording business in the first decades of the 20th century; several companies with a great number of recording artists, in addition to the purveyors of the burgeoning disc format, all competed in the nascent musical marketplace. Still, more than any other figure of his time, Edison and the phonograph became synonymous with the cylinder medium. Because of the overwhelming preponderance of cylinder recordings bearing his name in UCSB’s collection, the following history is, we admit, Edison-centric. Nonetheless, Edison’s story is heavily dependent on the stories of numerous musical figures and sound recording technological developments emblematic of the period, and it is our hope that we have fairly represented them here. Herein, a humble primer.
Anvil chorus. [Trovatore. Vedi! le fosche notturne spoglie]
A digital collection of recordings held by the University of California at Santa Barbara. Includes searchable database, history of cylinder recordings, and more at cylinders.library.ucsb.edu