By Joel Cheong
Imagine Darth Vader appearing onscreen without “The Imperial March” or Mario jumping around without his musical theme. Life would be a lot less colourful without music. In keeping with this year’s World IP Day theme of “Get Up, Stand Up. For Music,” let’s take a look at how three inventions changed the way we experienced music over the years.
For the record…
Mention “turntable”, and what comes to mind is a disc jockey manipulating the rotation of a vinyl record playing on the turntable to generate unusual sounds so as to entertain a group of youths in hoodies and oversized pants. The turntable’s predecessor, the phonograph, (US Patent No. 200521) was invented in 1877 by Thomas A. Edison, while working on improvements to the telegraph. While attempting to develop a method of recording telegraphic messages on paper disc, he discovered that one could record voices by embossing on a paper disc the vibration of a diaphragm caused by a person’s voice. The same voice could be reproduced by tracing the embossing using a stylus which would in turn cause a diaphragm in a horn to vibrate, from which the voice could be heard. With the advent of the phonograph came the phonograph record, which meant that music could be recorded and mass distributed for everyone to enjoy. Where previously, one had to go to an opera house or symphony hall to enjoy musical performances, now one who is desirous of listening to “Symphony No. 5” need only play a record on the phonograph in the comfort of one’s home. To this day, phonograph records are still collected by audiophiles in the belief that vinyl is superior to the compact disc.
These tapes are made for walking
Those who have watched Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie would observe that protagonist Peter Quill owns a portable cassette player which he treasures greatly, which brings us to our next invention. In 1979, Sony released a portable cassette tape player under the brand name “Walkman,” which would prove to be one of the most iconic gadgets of the century. At that time, cassette players were huge and had to be plugged into a wall socket. The Walkman allowed people to carry their music with them and experience the pleasure to listening to music wherever they are. While Sony was the first to market the Walkman, it was a man named Andreas Pavel who was the first to come up with the idea and patent the portable cassette player invention in Italy under patent no IT 21625 A/77. Andreas Pavel described his experience while testing his “Stereobelt” prototype as “floating.” Imagine being able to bring your music with you and listen to it while hiking through snowy woods and watching snow gently cascading from the sky and you would’ve most likely felt what Pavel felt then. While Sony enjoyed commercial success after releasing the Walkman, Pavel faced rejection from major brands such as Philips and Yamaha when attempting to mass-produce his invention. He would eventually battle Sony on royalties to the portable cassette player and it was only in 2003, after more than 20 years of wrestling with the tech giant did he manage to obtain compensation and the right to be called the true father of the portable cassette player.
No need to get physical
Our next invention relates to efforts of Dieter Seitzer and Karlheinz Brandenburg that began in the 1970s to develop a method of compressing music so that they could be transmitted over telephone lines. German patent DE 3506912 A1, filed on 28 August 1986 entitled “Audio Signal Transmission Method” was one of the earliest patents filed of the group of patents related to audio compression technology. Their work continued over the years and it was not until 1995 that MPEG Layer III, commonly known as MP3, was introduced to the world. MP3 revolutionized the way music is stored and distributed. Prior to the introduction of MP3, music was stored in mediums such as magnetic tape cassettes, compact discs and vinyl records. With MP3, an audio collection that took up the space of a bookcase could now be reduced to a thumb-sized USB drive. MP3’s small size also meant that it could be transmitted over phone lines and with the Internet came new ways of distributing music. Where previously, music was sold on CDs and other physical storage media, now services such as Spotify and iTunes allows a user to stream or download the music they want without needing to go to a physical store to purchase a CD.
These are but a few inventions that have changed the way we experience music today. Many other inventions such as the radio receiver, the headphone and the magnetic tape cassette have made an equally significant, if not greater impact. While performing artistes are often celebrated because they enrich our lives through their passion and creativity, not to be forgotten are the inventors who have changed the way we experience music today, and will continue to do so through their ingenuity and determination.