Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies by Calestous Juma

Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies by Calestous Juma

Author:Calestous Juma [Juma, Calestous]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 2016-06-05T22:00:00+00:00

Calling the Tune

The emergence of recorded music drastically changed the music landscape. Sound recording democratized music and made listening more convenient. But it threatened the employment of live musicians in America.

The breakthrough in sound recording came in 1877 when Thomas Edison created the phonograph. His work built upon Frenchman Leon Scott’s phonautograph, invented in 1856.7 The phonautograph could record sound, but the recordings were not reproducible. It was initially intended to record phone messages, but Edison and other inventors saw its potential to record other forms of sound. Throughout the late nineteenth century, a number of inventors worked toward creating a commercially viable phonograph. By 1900 phonographs were being duplicated and sold to American families, paving the way for the emergence of a major global music industry.8

The impact of machines on music itself had become a subject of considerable debate in the industry. When American avant-garde composer George Antheil’s Ballet Méchanique premiered in Carnegie Hall in New York, newspaper headlines screamed: “Mountain of Noise out of an Antheil” and “Boos Greet Antheil Ballet of Machines.” Antheil’s work featured “ten pianos, a pianola, xylophones, electric bells, sirens, airplane-propellers and percussion.”9 Earlier attempts by Luigi Russolo, an Italian futurist painter and composer, to create a complete orchestra with newly invented noise machines did not go down well. When he put the instruments on stage in 1914, a huge crowd had “gathered, whistling, howling and throwing things even before the concern had started and it remained in great uproar throughout the performance.”10

Early recording machines had many flaws, and the AFM sought to capitalize on the early stage problems of the new technology. The limitations enabled continued popularity of live performances. AFM president Joseph Weber noted that the phonograph helped musicians because it increased public awareness of music, which in turn had the potential to create jobs. At the 1926 AFM convention, Weber tried to reassure musicians: “There is absolutely nothing to fear from radio … radio will have the same result as the phonograph … it will ultimately increase the employment of musicians.”11

Musical performers and their labor union did not perceive early recordings as a threat to their livelihoods because the recordings were mostly of poor quality. It was not long before musicians “began to wonder whether recordings of popular artists or songs would undermine the demand for live music. For a time, however, recorded music was too scratchy to pose a serious threat, even though it played in commercial places and offered a few performers a way to supplement their income.”12

Additionally, during the early days of recording, radio stations preferred using live musicians on their programs. Sound from live performances was better quality, and stations at this time rarely used recordings. Broadcasters respected union demands for employment and decent wages, because the alterative use of recordings was even less attractive. They made efforts to employ orchestras, bands, and vocalists to perform on radio programs. There was relative balance between live music and technology in the early innovation stages. With increased improvements in electrical recording, however, this balance soon changed.


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