Tommy Settlers and His Blues Moaner – ” Shaking Weed Blues “

The human voice is a flexible tool that can convey a great deal more than language. While this track, from 1930, employs the voice in a far more traditional way that the manipulations of someone like Henri Chopin, it is nonetheless an effective example of the way that the voice can undergo transformation. In this case settlers uses his voice to emulate an instrument.

Of course we know that this is not a REAL instrument, it still maintains the properties of the voice — and this is part of what makes it enjoyable. The voice becomes a tool in the performers kit alongside his guitar. and other instruments.

It’s worth commenting too on the role that the media plays in all of this. This very early recording lacks the dynamics and fullness of a modern recording. While the 1930’s brought various new technologies to the world for recording sound, for example magnetic tape, this recording was much more likely accomplished with a recording device that cut a record which would then have been reproduced as a 78RPM record.

The artist’s vocal manipulations are impacted and actually enhanced by the dynamic limitations of the media and change the way that we hear it. In the same way that a kazoo changes the dynamics of the voice by forcing it through a tube, the dynamic range here is limited by the way that it is recorded and the material it was recorded onto.

Before 1925, all 78s were recorded by means of the artist singing or speaking into a horn, the power of their voice directly vibrating the recording stylus and thus cutting the wax of the master disc. Collectors call these discs “acoustic” recordings.

Electrical recording was first used in 1925. After about 1925, 78s were recorded by the artist singing or speaking into a microphone and amplifier which then cut the master record. This allowed a wider range of sound to be recorded. Records recorded by this process are called “electrical” recordings. Collectors can identify these discs by either by listening or by means of small marks in the record surface close to the label.

Any flat disc record, made between about 1898 and the late 1950s and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute is called a “78” by collectors. The materials of which discs were made and with which they were coated were also various; shellac eventually became the commonest material. Generally 78s are made of a brittle material which uses a shellac resin (thus their other name is shellac records). During and after World War II when shellac supplies were extremely limited, some 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac (wax), particularly the six-minute 12″ 78 rpm records produced by V-Disc for distribution to US troops in World War II.

Yale University – The History of the 78 RPM Recording


Frances Densmore recording Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief on a cylinder phonograph for the Bureau of American Ethnology (1916)
The December 1930 issue of Radio Craft magazine



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