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Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision organised their (re)discovery event on the theme « History of Sound ».

For five days visitors were able to see the most beautiful and rare musical objects that Sound and Vision could gather from its depots. Additionally phonograph collector Jelle Attema gave permission to showcase some of the most magnificent objects from his personal collection. The benefit of having Attema’s objects on hand was Sound and Vision had the possibility to demonstrate how these objects work, thus really bringing music history to life. The objects represented the history of recording and playing sound. Some of the objects were over a 100 years old, like the Hexaphone for instance. This mechanical jukebox from 1910’ plays six wax cylinders and was an amazing sight to see in action.

The History of Sound exhibition (photo by Harry van Biessum, CC-BY-SA)

The public had the chance to hear more about the history of sound on three moments each day in the form of a 30 minutes lecture given by dedicated Sound and Vision volunteers Vera van Brakel, Jack Hollemans, Martin Schuurmans, Ron Haanschoten and Rob de Bie. The ever enthusiastic Rob de Bie created these lectures starting with humanity’s first attempts  to record sound (experiments with just a sponge, wooden box or lead pipe), all the way up to the current era in which music streaming is the most common way to enjoy tunes. Within this historical journey people were able to hear about the general trends in music recording and playing development, as well as the influence these trends and inventions had on society, the film industry and music production.

Rob de Bie giving his History of Sound lecture (photo by Harry van Biessum, CC-BY-SA)

But the rare instances that provided the public with surprising anecdotes were mentioned as well. To give you a glimpse: did you know that the Tefifon carrier, that eventually could record four hours of music, was already invented in the 1930s by the German Karl Daniel? And did you know that his invention only saw the public light in the 1950s because the German Defense initially wanted to keep it a secret? By that time the music industry already decided on vinyl as their weapon of choice, so Tefifon had no chance to compete with the already made deals in the booming record industry of the 1950s and later.

Audience of the History of Sound lecture (photo by Harry van Biessum, CC BY-SA)

In the room next to the exhibition the public could join two presentations a day. One of these presentations was for the audience to hear more about the sound related projects Sound and Vision initiated and is involved in. Next to Europeana Sounds and its collaboration with Wikimedia, Harry van Biessum told more about the RE:VIVE initiative, the Sound of the Netherlands platform, the Dutch national Music Encyclopedia and the work of embedded researcher John Ashley Burgoyne to unravel the catchiness of popular music. The presentation had a quiz element in it, which resulted in two happy owners of the beautiful archival photo books Damrak and 010 published by Sound and Vision via RE:VIVE.

Tin foil phonograph (photo by Harry van Biessum, CC BY-SA)

The other presentation was given by microphone collector and author of the book ‘Witnesses of Words’ Marco van der Hoeven. In his 30 minute time slot the technical and cultural role of microphones throughout the course of history was highlighted and explained. Did you know that in the beginning of the development of microphones it was so common for speakers to be afraid of microphones that they put lampshades on it? Just to make sure that the speaker would feel more at home and comfortable. Eight microphones were on display in the room, one of which was used by former Dutch queen Wilhelmina to speak to the occupied Netherlands during WWII from London (read more about these Dutch WWII broadcasts here).

Rob de Bie giving a demonstration during the History of Sound exhibition (photo by Harry van Biessum, CC BY-SA)

Over the five days more than 500 people turned up for the presentations and even more people came to see the exhibition and watched the demonstrations of historical music objects in between all the mini lectures. The high turn out of people for the exhibition and mini lectures can be explained by the fact that this History of Sound programme was part of a larger radio ‘Top 2000’ festival that took place at Sound and Vision. The radio festival attracted 28.963 visitors in just seven days, 24.355 people visited during the five History of Sound days. For some people in the Netherlands the tradition to listen and visit the live broadcast of this radio programme has become even more important than making sure a Christmas tree is in place.

by Harry van Biessum, NISV