Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Frank Lambert and the Philips Company- unsung heros of music history

Mobile PC magazine's much talked-about article Top 100 Gadgets of All Time does include many magnificient inventions that changed our lives but a few omissions stand out. Where would the world of journalism be without the typewriter? You surely wouldn't be reading this now as my nice little computer keyboard is modeled after that. Tommy Edison's phonograph is a no-brainer to include there too but what about Frank Lambert? Who's that? As luck would have it, he not only helped to perfect (not invent) the typewriter but also worked to improve Edison's model and create a permanent recording under the aegis of a talking clock in 1878. Today, his invention not only stands as world's oldest playable recording but was also a model for Edison himself to develop something more sturdy and durable that the original tin foil he was using for the phonograph. Doesn't Frankie deserve some recognition then?

Even though the Walkman is rightfully listed in the Mobile PC article, it forgets the most important compontent of the machine: the lowly cassette. Though it's still widely available in stores, the cheap price of CD-R's and CD burners make it seems like a pathetic anchorism today. The Philips company developed the compact model we know in 1962, originally for dictation machines. Even they were amazed by the resulting popularity of this little gizmo. What made it revolutionary wasn't just that you could get your voice or a meeting or a nature recording or music recording down for posterity or your own uses but once it was integrated into the rest of a stereo unit as cassette decks appeared in the early '70's, any home user then had the power to create their own music compilation of songs AKA a mix. Again, this seems de rigeur today but the concept of you the home consumer having the power to create in effect your own record, your own specially co-ordinated collection of music was an incredible concept indeed. You could hand-pick the songs from your favorite artists in any order you like with the only limitation being the length of the tape itself. Don't like a particular song or a tape itself? No problem- just re-record any part you want. True, it wasn't as easy to cue up as a record album (all the rewinding or forwarding) but until the album, the cassette was a pliable medium for users where they could put together their own sonic environment unmediated by the radio, record companies, etc..

This same idea got expanded in terms of length and sound quality with the recordable CD's (aka CD-R's) and the MP3 players but the same underlining concept was there. The cassette was the daddy of these later technologies and even if we barely use it anymore, it still deserves its due.


Post a Comment

<< Home