Gramophone and its History

(Editor, Compiler, Author and Translator Dr. PADMA SUDHI)
The history of the phonograph in India dates back to the beginning of the century, gramophones began to be exported to India since 1898. The idea of commercially exploiting the phonograph on a large scale in the East was mooted in 1900, and Messrs. Mutoscope Biography Co. of India was given the agency of selling horn-gramophones and records of European music imported from America. In 1898, W. B. Owen had established in England the parent company of the Gramophone Co. Ltd. He was sent to England by the American inventor of disc recording. Emile Berliner, to sell, if possible, his European rights for the disc records which he had patented in the U.S.A. Since Owen did not scceed in selling Berliner’s rights outright, the two formed The Gramophone Co. Ltd., in England, Berliner erected a record-pressing factory at Hanover in the U.S.A. for supplying records and machines to the newly-formed company in England. At this point a mechanic named Johnson invented a spring-wound motor for the phonograph machine. Until his invention was perfected, users had to rotate, with the help of a handle, the turntable with the disc on it. The spring motor enabled the phonograph to be wound for a certain number of playing and lience the listener could sit at a distance without having to bother to crank the machine all the time. The Mutoscope Biograph Co. in India started selling machines and records pressed in America. The most popular record imported into India at that time was Bert Sheppard’s The Laughing Song, which had proved popular everywhere.
The Mutoscope Biograph Co., did not do well, and its agency was terminated. In 1907, J. Watson Harod was sent out to open a branch of the Gramophone Company, which he did on July 7, 1901, in Calcutta.
In the initial stages, a gramophone record used to be manufactured by the process Zinc etching. A Zinc disc with a smooth, shiny surfaced was coated with a layer of fat, on which a spiral groove was cut by a stylus. The stylus was fixed to a diaphragm that vibrated in sympathy with the sound waves of the song, sung or played into the large mouth of a horn. The recorded Zinc disc was then immersed in acid for about ten minutes and the spiral groove of the music was etched into it. This record could then be played back straightaway.
In 1901, recording on wax was invented and it also became possible to duplicate the matrices, so that huge quantities could be pressed from these. The process opened up an enormous field for expansion. By the beginning of October 1902, T.W. Gaisberg, a colleague of Berliner, came to India for developing the record trade. His recording in India became a landmark. Gaisberg and his successors recorded misses Dulari, Gourajan, Zohram, Malkajan, Angurbala, Indubala, Kamala and goharjan and the popular Quall-singer, Pearu Quwal, Kaloo Quwal, Fakre Alam Quwal and several others. The accompaniment for these artistes comprised just a few instruments; a harmonium, table, sarood and clarionet; and for female singers, the sarangi and bells. These recordings were sent to Hanover for processing and pressing. The finished records, sent to Hanover for processing and pressing. The finished records, sent back to India, and were sold in large numbers. To interest prospective purchasers, a novel idea was tried out. At the close of the singing, the artist would announce his or her name My name is Jankibai of Allahabad or My name is Mushtaribai of Agra. These statements in English by performers who did not know the language amused listeners and helped somewhat to boost the sales of discs. The earliest record was only 7″ in size, but later it was increased to 10″ and 12″. The early hom machines were black in colour, but later these were changed to brass for a more attractive effect. The coloured horn was known as Morning Glory, and it became a rage in 1907. The year 1908 was unique in the history of the gramophone. Factories were then established at belliaghat in Calcutta and at Hayes, Middlesex, in England. This assured a steady supply of gramophone Motors machines and record to the rapidly growing market in India. After the initial success of the record, The Laughing Song, the company brought out by Charles Primrose. Records containing route-march songs, bugle-call, and camp file songs, ‘pipes and drums’ played by Q.O. Gameron High landers of the 2nd Battalion and comic songs like The Peanut Venders also proved to be money-spinners. The company’s factory at Belliaghat could not meet the rapid growing demand for discs. tn 1928, therefore, the company shifted its operations to a bigger factory at Dum Dum India, India, with population of over six hundred twenty million people and more than thirty languages and dialects, has a varied treasure of musical traditions and colorful folklore. The present catalogue of the company includes over 7500 records featuring every kind of fare: classical, folk, patriotic, devotional, light classical, light as as pop and film music in the addition to items of sheer entertainment value, there are quite a large number of recordings of educational and cultural interest.
The stirring words of our national leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, were recorded and thus preserved for posterity. Vande Mataram was recorded by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore some where around 1900. The Gramophone Co., and the records with the dogs trade-mark his Master’s Voice were meeting with increasing popularity and market support. The year 1920-21, saw a political awakening and a national-wide movements of Swadeshi. As a result, businessmen, inspired by patriotic sentiments, decided to market records of songs supporting the Swadeshi movement. They urged boycott of foreign goods and purchase of exclusively Swadeshi articles T.S. Ramachander & Co., of Bombay recorded a number of such songs by local artistes and had them processed in Germany. Thes were issues under the Ramagraph label.
Till about 1920, all phonograph machines used to be imported and a phonograph in the drawing room was in those days a status symbol. Around 1928-29, cheap machines manufactured in Japan invaded the market. They were so low priced (each costing about Rs. 10 to Rs.15) that even a person of average means could afford to purchase a machine. A little later dealers in phono machines started importing component parts from Japan and Switzerland and, using locally made wooden cabinets, assembled all thse in Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi. The boom doe gramophone records began with these cheap machines. These gramophone records began with these cheap machines. These phonographs had a single standard speed or 78 R.P.M. Hence the playing time for one side of a disc of 10″ size was maximum of 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Later, slightly larger–sized records of 12″ with an additional playing time of one minute were considered suitable for recordings of top ranking artists.
When the Gramophone & Co, tried to draw upon the repertoire of the exponents of classical music, it invariably faced serious difficulties. The musicians were reluctant to share their knowledge with others and make their treasures accessible to the public. They refused to record and, if they were at all persuaded to do so, would stipulate such high fees that recording them ceased to be commercially viable. The company, therefore, focused attention on the more popular singers. It was easier to persuade them to record and their discs earned large profits. Amongst, these are many three decades, for their sweet voice and attractive stypel of presentation. The names of Jankibai, Malkajan, Goharjan, Mushtaribai, Kamala Zaria, Angurabata, Indubala, Dulari, Joharajan and Mahboobjan linger and Jutika Roy in our memories even today.
The other types of musician artistes, who were accessible and whose discs had a good sales potential, were the quwali and Gazal singers and the performance of Kirtanas and devotional songs. The naats Muslim religious songs and quwalis of out-standingly popular singers like Pearu Quwal, Kaloo Quwal, Bhai Chhela, Mater Rohit, K.c. Dey, Ashraf Khan, Fakiruddin Quwal, Aga Faiz, Ali Hussian Pyaraahib still evoke affectionate response from listeners… The impact of gramophone in the south has been considerable from the very early days. Lovers of Karanatic music speak nostalgically of the records of Coimbatore Thayi, of Bangalore Nagaratnam, of the recordings of the imcomparable Veena Dhanam and a 78 R.P.M disc of Shanmilijavadivu (the mother of M.S. Subbulakshmi). Some of the great classical musician of the early decades of this century- Venna Sheshanna, Bidaram Krishnappa, Ponnuswami Pillai and Ramaswami Pillai (Nagaswaram Vidwans) have all left behind them samples of the music. The South, too, had its quota of stage starts S.V.Subbia Bhagavatar, S.G. Kittappa, K.B. Sundarrambal, all of whom recorded extensively. Of the classical rendering of the 30’s, avery popular pressing was the rendering of Nagamomu by the late Musiri Subramania Iyer. Many of his contemporaries-chembai, Ariyakudi, Mahajarapuram, G.N.B. Venkataswami Naidu (Violin), Rajamanickam Pillai (violin), Chowdiah violin, Rajarathnam, nagaswaram have all left the imprint of their art on discs, through few of them recorded extensively.
Why the dog and horn symbol?
An artist named Francis Brerraud observed that a dog belonging to his decreased brother Mark Barraud would cock one earn to the sound emitted by an old Edison phonograph. It used to listen with rapt attention and the expression on its face suggested that it seemed to be waiting to hear its late master’s voice. Framcis Barraud was quick to Grasp the value of the scene and he painted it as he saw it. The Nipper and the Edison Machine. He took the picture to the Edison Company but they did not evince any interest in it. A friend suggested to him that he change the ugly blank machine and substitute it with more modern horn. In 1899, while he was tramping the streets of London in the hope of finding such a horn from one of the various companies engaged in the rapidly growing records business, he happened to call at the small office of the Gramophone Co. Ltd. He showed his oil painting to the manager, B. Owen, who immediately grasped the potential it held as a trade-mark for his company. He grace a hundred pounds to the artist and obtained it for his company, the company had till then an other trade mark, and angle writing, while seating, on a disc. But when record with the dog and the sound horn appeared, with the caption “His Master Voice”, the trade – mark won fame and popularity of a kind unparalleled in the history of the industry. It was found printed on millions of records and machines in several countries of the world. In India, it first appeared on a potable machine in 1920. Later it was printed on the first electric records produced by the company. The abbreviated letters HMV for his Master’s Voice becomes synonymous with the organization the Gramophone Company Ltd.
Author:Joshi G. N.
Source: Vivekanand Kendra Patrika Feb 1978
Cf National Centre for the performing Arts Bombay
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