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Banner: The Virtual Gramophone
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Turning Points: A Short History of Sound Recording and Record Players

by Bryan Dewalt, curator of communications at the Canada Science and Technology Museum

All images are of artifacts in the collection of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Artifact catalogue numbers are shown in brackets after photo credits.

The Talking Machine
Electronics Transform Recording
The Tape Recorder
Digital Recording


For almost 130 years we have used technology to preserve and replay sounds that would otherwise be lost the moment they occurred. In saving these brief sonic events, we have to some extent replaced personal interaction in "real time" with a one-way communication process that is independent of time. For example, people used to either perform their own music or attend a public performance. Now we are more likely to listen to recordings (or records) than gather around the piano or go to a concert. Music and, to a lesser extent, the spoken word have become products that we consume rather than an activity that we share. Thanks to the mass production of records and players, people now have access to more diverse styles and more expertly performed music than ever before. Ironically, few of us can now sing the songs our grandparents sang.