Graph: Gabinetes fonográficos and singers, 1896-1904

For a larger version of the graph, click here.

The above networked graph, created with Cytoscape, intends to show which Spanish opera and zarzuela (in green) singers recorded for which gabinetes fonográficos (in white). Gabinetes fonográficos were active in the years between 1896-1904 (although most typically only remained open for a few years); they imported and sold phonographs and gramophones, and also recorded and released their own wax cylinder recordings employing mostly local singers. Vocal recordings were by far the most popular, although we do know of a few wind band or solo instrument (with piano) recordings.

Some of the data about singers and gabinetes has been obtained from Biblioteca Digital Hispánica. This online collection gives access to more than 300 digitized wax cylinders. But we also know of other recordings through print documents, such as the catalogues of some gabinetes and advertisements and articles in specialized publications, such as Boletín fonográfico and El cardo.

There are several features of the graph that make more sense if we take into account some of the particularities of the nascent recording industry at this stage. First of all, the reproduction of recordings was not yet perfected and practically each recording released by the gabinetes was unique; it was therefore not yet possible to rely on a few well-known singers to satisfy demand. Secondly, with recording technologies being in their infancy and not yet perfected, not many well-known singers were keen to have their voices recorded. The clusters of singers (of variable size) around most of the gabinetes suggests that most singers recorded for just one gabinete; the centre of the graph show a limited number of singers who are known to have recorded for two or (more rarely) three or four gabinetes. Interestingly, many of these ‘busy’ singers did not have particularly illustrious or long careers on stage, such as Eloísa López-Marán, Francisco G. Pertierra, Bernardino Blanquer and Blanca del Carmen; it might be that their voices were particularly suited to recording technologies of the time or that they were the quickest or most keen to adapt to the new working practices that recordings demanded.

Opportunities for relatively unknown singers to make a career as recording artists were short-lived, though: after the gramophone became predominant in the early 1900s and the reproduction of discs became commonplace, multinational recording labels, such as Odeon, Fonotipia, Victor, etc., preferred to rely on well-known singers with an established stage career.