Recent APRS Events


Sound enthusiast Duncan Miller took time out from making soap in his garden shed to wax lyrical about the history of sound recording at a recent APRS event, held at London’s prestigious Royal College of Music.

Miller, owner of the Vulcan Cylinder Record Company, was hosting a workshop for APRS members on the art of wax cylinder recording, which, despite the name, actually involves coating cylinders with soap, the pliant material into which the recording groove is cut. Miller coats the cylinders and runs them over a bespoke shaving machine until the recording surface is as smooth as glass. This explains why every few months Miller has to cook up a new batch of soap in the shed!

With the help of some musicians from the Royal Academy of Music, Miller ran a fascinating recording session for the APRS, demonstrating how he has been making acoustic recordings on cylinder and disc since the early 1980s, using typical machinery and methods used in the formative years of the recording industry.

One of the highlights of the evening, which was entitled ‘Before There Were Microphones’, was seeing a number of cylinder recording and replay machines from the early 20th Century, all preserved and maintained in working order as part of Miller’s extensive collection. 

With duplication of a cylinder impossible in the earliest days of music recording, Miller explained how engineers would gather together a number of recording machines around the band and record between five and 10 cylinders per take. Then, to get enough product to sell, musicians would need to play the same piece multiple times in a session, using fresh cylinders.

Miller, who appeared in the recent BBC Four Series The Sound of Song, now runs the Vulcan Cylinder Record Company but his interest in cylinder records began back in 1977. Finding it difficult to make acoustic recordings on a disc gramophone, he obtained a small Columbia machine and made some wax blanks. He then contacted the local Edison expert, George Frow, author of the book Edison Phonographs 1877 to 1929. Frow introduced him to The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society (CLPGS), and to Paul Morris, kicking off a collaboration that lasted for several years as the pair made wax cylinder blanks and records under the Miller Morris label.

@hotos from the event courtesy of Nuno Fernandes

© APRS, 2010
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