Recorded Sound

In the early 1900s, recorded sound was accused of muddling our minds, destroying art, putting musicians out of work, and even harming babies. What was everyone so afraid of? Be sure to check out this episode of the podcast as well, where we explore what the hysterics properly predicted—and what they never saw coming.

‘Murder’ of Music Laid to Machines

The New York Times  | July 19th, 1933

The era of mechanization is indicted as “the murderer of music” in a pamphlet issued yesterday by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. What has happened to “the lovely art of music” is revealed by charts, which with figures serve as evidence that the talking pictures, radio and the phonograph have “murdered” music, at the same time failing to compensate musical genius adequately for talent and melody that have been killed.


Victims of the Phonograph

The Gazette Times | September 7th, 1908

We can listen to only so much of speech in a lifetime, and if one man can address a thousand audiences in a day through the medium of machinery, 999 rival orators may well begin to wonder where their bread and butter, not to mention jam, will come from.


It Does Not Injure the Ear

The New York Times  | July 30th, 1890

A Senseless Objection Raised Against The Phonograph.

The Philadelphia Board of Park Commissioners has started a crusade against the phonograph. A member of that board conceived the idea that the machines must be injurous to public health, and had four of them ordered out of Fairmount Park. It is not stated whether or not the Park Commissioner found anybody suffering from disease contracted by the use of the phonograph, but the board assumed that it was dangerous to the public health and abolished it.


Gramophone is Suppressed

The New York Times | October 17th, 1909

It Took Martial Law to Do it in St. Petersburg.

S t. Petersburg has been groaning under the tyranny of the gramophone. Business men, students, and writers deluged the Prefect of the city with letters imploring him to save them from the torture of its metal voice… The Prefect has now forbidden the use of gramophones in the entire central district and in other parts of the city frequented by business men. After all, martial law has its advantages.


Bishop Demands Test

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | October 27th, 1931

Bishop Vincent was one of those who “knew” that reproduction of the human voice was impossible, and that the phonograph was a fake. He demaned a test. Edison covered the cylinder with fresh tinfoil and the bishop recited, haphazard, a long list of obscure Biblical names. When the phonograph recited them right back to him he was convinced, because he could not conceive that any hidden ventriloquists could remember them.


Musicians Piqued Over Canned Music

The Manhattan Mercury | October 15th, 1930

The Chicago Federation of Musicians, piqued because Republicans are using “canned music” to attract attention to their candidates, made known today that it would take retaliatory steps, sending forth flesh and blood bandsmen to compete for attention with the “canned music.”


Made Idle by ‘Canned Music’ Violinist Can’t Pay $1 Fine

The Standard Union  | July 23rd, 1930

Until the movies began to fill their bills with “canned music,” Nicciarone held a job as a violinist in an orchestra and was able to teach a class of pupils. Yesterday the musician was brought before Magistrate McKinley in West Side Court on the charge of smoking in the subway. He was fined a dollar and couldn’t pay it. His whole bank roll was 17 cents and he informed the court that Mrs. Nicciarone had only 20 cents more. He was broke because “canned music” had thrown him out of a job.


Music Hath Charms That Kill

The New York Times | August 10th, 1908

Startling Tragedies That May Happen Should a London Sheriff’s “Poison” Theory Be Correct.

According to a recent cable dispatch, Sir Charles Wakefield, former Sheriff of London, has declared that the works of some of even the greatest composers exercise a poisonous influence over people of a certain temperament. If this view is accepted by the world at large we may expect to read in the newspapers of the future items like these:

Euterpe, Mich. – Several hundred persons here are suffering from ptomaine poisoning due to listening to canned music.

Abuse of the Talking Machine in Schools

Reading Eagle | October 8th, 1916

Many schools in these days are using and far more abusing the talking machine in their school rooms. When the teacher gets tired toward the close of a session, she tells Johnny to put a piece on the talking machine, while she sits down to read a book. I don’t know of a single article, not even the long-suffering waste basket, that is more abused than the talking machine.


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