Record of gas shell bombardment on the Western Front in 1918 | Gramophone Archives

The courageous attempt to capture the rumors of war on the Western Front in the fall of 1918 ended in tragedy for WC Gaisberg, as this excerpt from the Gramophone archives reveals.

At least three other attempts to make “live” recordings were made during the acoustic era. The first – although it later came to be released in the usual way – was found to be the cause of death. It was the fall of 1918. The Great War was drawing to a close and the Armistice was in sight. In the final days of the fighting, the Gramophone Company sent its chief recorder, WC Gaisberg (later brother of the more famous Fred) to the front lines, with instructions to capture the sounds of one of the last shell bombardments. gas. Thus, the terrible sound of “war to end the war” would be preserved for the horror and fear of posterity. Gaisberg arrived with his equipment and a military pass, and moved closer and closer to the front lines. His opportunity presented itself as the battle almost seemed to be breaking over him, and he got his recording. But he was severely gassed in the process and returned home very ill. His weakened condition made him a quick victim of the great flu epidemic of November 1918, and within a month of recording he died.

“As the dense crowds of the abbey sang the designated hymns, there was an attempt to record over the telephone lines.”

The war years had seen important developments in telephone communication, and at one point it seemed to promise a contribution to “live” recording. On Armistice Day 1920, Westminster Abbey was the scene of an impressive ceremony. It was the burial of the unknown soldier. As the dense crowds of the abbey sang the designated hymns, there was an attempt to make a recording over the telephone lines. It was sort of the first electric recording, and it was actually issued by Columbia for a brief time as a charity appeal. But the sound of the phone was never of good fidelity, and the musical results were dismal beyond belief. If this disc had any influence on the advent of electric recording, it is undoubtedly to delay it.

Wireless has also made its own contribution. On April 23, 1924, the BBC broadcast the opening ceremony of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. Speeches by the King and Prince of Wales were included, and there was new music specially written for the occasion and conducted by Sir Edward Elgar. The Gramophone Company recorded much of this directly from wireless receivers into their acoustic recording machines, but the results were considered so hopeless that the recordings were sadly destroyed.

Jerrold Moore, Gramophone, April 1972


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