History: Looking Forward, Looking Back

As a kid, I had an acute awareness of the effects of history. I suppose that growing up in Naples, Italy, had something to do with that. History becomes
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As a kid, I had an acute awareness of the effects of history. I suppose that growing up in Naples, Italy, had something to do with that. History becomes a lot more real when your house has a view of the gently billowing Vesuvius and you know that any day you could end up forever frozen in time like those unfortunate residents of Pompeii in 79 A.D. At moments like that, knowledge of history provides valuable insights into the future. The true Napolitani just shrug it off, figuring that whenever it blows, it's going to blow anyway, and in such a situation, they are more likely to pull out a cold bottle of Spumante and toast the event rather than make a futile attempt to flee through gridlocked streets. It's a different attitude, but at least they know their history.

Not so with most people in pro audio, in which the lore goes back a mere 125 years or so, yet comparatively little is known about our lineage. As the beginning of a long-term project to change (some of) that, the Mix Foundation for Excellence in Audio — essentially the TEC Awards crew — has instituted a TECnology Hall of Fame. We formed a select committee of 50 industry leaders, engineers, producers, designers, educators, journalists and historians to pick 25 innovations (10 pre-1950 and 15 from 1950 to 1994), and the results are made public in the 20 Years of TEC supplement that mailed out to subscribers with this issue.

Yeah, an audio Hall of Fame is great, but what does it have to do with today? Plenty. Besides heralding phonograph/gramophone pioneers like Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner, less well-known names like Lee De Forest (who developed the first triode amplifier tube) helped bring on a revolution in using electronics and microphones to capture audio in the electrical recording process, as opposed to acoustical recording that involved pointing large horns at the sound source. Meanwhile, improved ribbon and condenser microphones brought the fidelity required for talking motion pictures. And the demise of silent films meant that theaters needed large sound systems, and today's P.A. systems have their roots in film sound.

Other innovations were clearly way ahead of their time. In 1928, Harry Nyquist — in proposing a means of improving telegraph communications — laid down the fundamentals of digital audio sampling, known as the Nyquist Theorem. Some three decades before stereo LPs became common, Alan Dower Blumlein laid down the basics of stereo reproduction and recording in 1931. And this also occurs with more recent products such as trapezoidal speaker designs (with Meyer Sound's 1980 UPA-1) or the SD2 file format of Digidesign's Sound Tools (1989) or then-revolutionary Alesis ADAT (1991), which leaves the legacy of its fiber-optic Lightpipe interface.

So whether you're a prospective student perusing our annual Audio Education Directory (in this issue) or an established professional, we sometimes find that a view of the future is right in front of us. Speaking of the future, AES rolls into San Francisco at the end of this month and this show has all the makings of the best AES ever, so log on to www.aes.org for more details and get those last-minute travel bookings in now. We've got a very special issue planned for AES, but in the meantime, stay tuned to www.mixonline.com for some cool pre-show surprises.