MOCAPS Report by Ron Roscoe
The April 27th, 2014 Massachusetts Old Colony Antique Phonograph Society meeting was hosted by Don Houde at his home in North Attleborough, MA. The theme was “Edison Diamond Disc Tone Tests”.
A trip by the club to the Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ was further discussed. We settled on holding this on October 12-13 to coincide with the Wayne, NJ Mechanical Music Extravaganza.
The next meeting was tentatively scheduled for a Sunday in the last week of July or the third week of August, at Mark Vess’ Museum. The theme will be: Bring your favorite machine and talk about its history. The public will be invited.
Tom Rhodes on gave a presentation on Diaphragm development: This was well covered in the paper Tom handed out; but a few of the highlights are: Diaphragm development at Western Electric was an offshoot of telephone development, but it was also studied independently by Arthur Edwin Kennelly. Edison’s rice paper diaphragm had “less” self-resonance. This could mean that either the resonance was outside of the band of frequencies to be found on a record, or that the self-resonance was inside that band, but was well damped. Edgerton developed a phenolic-stiffened silk diaphragm. Metallic diaphragms needed to have their self-resonant frequency altered. The Orthophonic diaphragm was a minor W. E. effort by Harrison and Wente, took 18 months. The Victor Company also did diaphragm development in the mid 1920s.
Ron L’Herault on Edison Tone Tests: Ron sung along with a “re-creation” [tintype label] of “I’ve Got My Captain Working for Me Now”, written by Irving Berlin and sung by Fred Hildebrand. Nice work! As good as Ron was, it’s still hard to believe folks couldn’t tell!
Kirk Bauer: Kirk had a lot of interesting stuff to add to the discussion, including the fact that a 1915 Edison film “The Voice of the Violin” [posted on YouTube] had a place where the projectionist stopped the film and an Edison Diamond Disc machine played “Feast of the Flowers”, an American Symphony Orchestra re-creation. Kirk said that this film had a lot of influence on the format for the tone tests, such as the darkening or dimming of the room. Kirk said that the tone tests ended in 1921-22. Kirk also played a “re-creation” called “Forgotten”, by baritone Thomas Chalmers, a tone test artist. This selection was one of those actually used in the tone tests!
While no special recordings are known to have been made for the tone tests, we did speculate that perhaps a special reproducer was used. It is known that in all tone tests the DD machine was always playing; this would mean that whatever surface noise remained from the special extra layers of Condensite on the special tone test pressings was constant. Only the singer stopped and started, and of course the singers were trained to sing along with the record in a restrained manner.
One of the most interesting things that Kirk presented was the little Edison “propaganda” play called “Mr. Guy Wise, Esq.” This was intended to train Edison dealers, and is great fun to read. Additionally, Kirk showed us the “Mr. Guy Wise Scrapbook” which was rescued from a dump. This book contains dozens of contemporary newspaper clippings of Tone Tests conducted in 1915-16. It is most instructive to read them, especially the ones that give hints that maybe it WAS possible to distinguish between the Edison DD and the real artist. Here are a few of the hedge words I noticed while reading the clippings: “Except perhaps for a smaller volume of tone….”; “…except possibly for the lesser volume.”; “…so that it was at times difficult to distinguish which one (was) heard, the voice or the ‘record’…..”; “…they were scarcely distinguishable apart.”.
Bill Shenette brought his Edison “B” Home cylinder machine and played a copy of “Lincoln’s Speech at Gettysburg” by Len Spencer; cylinder # 8154, circa 1904.
A photo of President Emeritus, Bruce Young, holding his 20” Pathe Disc belonging to the host of the Don Houde.