This page lists my publications on the subject of early recordings – both for academic and non-academic audiences.
‘On the record: music before mass production’ at History Today
In this piece, I explore the early era of recorded music (1890 to mid-1900), during which, due to technological limitations, recordings could not be copied easily. Recording labels working locally in different parts of the world chose, attempted to develop their own techniques for duplicating wax cylinders. At the same time, in order to meet demand, they often hired second- or third-rate singers, which opens a fascinating window into the realities of the late 19th-century opera scene. In-demand singers could also be requested by recording labels to record the same piece again and again for up to twelve hours in a row.
‘Inventing the recording’ at The Public Domain Review
In this piece, I explore how the concept of ‘recording’ came into being – recordings not as mere carriers of sound, but as commodities that can be bought and sold, as artefacts capable of capturing and embodying values and emotions; of defining a generation, a country or a social class. From Edison’s initial experiments with recorded sound in 1877, the story of the recording as a developing concept unfolds over three decades, with the participation of a myriad of other inventors, musicians, producers and entrepreneurs from all over the world – such as tenor Florencio Constantino and the gabinetes fonográficos producing and selling unique issues of recordings around 1900.
‘The singing non-singer’ at The Dangerous Women Project
This piece looks at some of the female singers whose voices can be heard in some of the earliest recordings made in Spain ca. 1900. I focus on two of them – Amparo Cardenal, who decided against a stage career for fear it was not appropriate for a young woman of her class and instead devoted herself to recordigns; and Amalia Campos, a very popular singing actress of género chico and sicalipsis.
‘Prefiguring the Spanish recording diva’ in Listening to music: people, practices and experiences
This chapter situates early commercial recordings made in Spain by local gabinetes fonográficos between 1898 and 1905 in the aural landscape of their time. In order to do so, it examines a range of audio-visual media, including original wax cylinders, advertisements, trade publications, press articles and other accounts of listening experiences from the arrival of phonographs in Spain in the late 1870s to the demise of the gabinetes around 1905, when they were absorbed or rendered obsolete by multinational recording companies. Such early recordings must be interpreted alongside the thriving theatrical culture that prevailed in Spain at the time, especially that of zarzuela – the preferred genre of theatre-goers and the best represented, according to available evidence, in catalogues of gabinetes fonográficos. A range of primary sources suggest that recordings were intended as a memento to go hand-in-hand with the experience of listening to music live; as such, the gabinetes fonográficos industry was uniquely built in close connection to the theatrical culture.