A brief history of sound design technology

29th Jul 2013 | 15:13

A brief history of sound design technology
The artists of noise

How did we get from the sound of early man making noises by hitting things to the all-singing, all-dancing computer-based recording tools that we have at our disposal today?

We plot the journey in this not-altogether-exhaustive look at the history of sound design technology.

For a complete guide to sound design check out Computer Music Special: The Sound Designer’s Handbook (issue 60) which is on sale now.

A brief history of sound design technology
10,000 BC
Knock on wood.

Palaeolithic man strikes bone on wood, creating a dull thud. He realises that it sounds rubbish and invents civilisation, hoping that one day it’ll come up with something more banging.

A brief history of sound design technology
4000 BC
The Chinese way.

Early Chinese theatre relies on music and sound to underscore the action. Participants have no idea that South Korea will eventually beat them to the first YouTube clip to garner a billion views.

A brief history of sound design technology
1300 AD
Renaissance men.

Italian Renaissance theatre uses sound effects to heighten the physical comedy. Years later, the Chuckle Brothers’ seminal TV series ChuckleVision would develop the technique to perfection.

A brief history of sound design technology
1876 AD
Better oscillate than never.

American electrical engineer Elisha Gray inadvertently invents the single-note oscillator. Trance enthusiasts would have to wait 121 years for the Roland JP-8000’s supersaw oscillator to make its debut.

A brief history of sound design technology
1886 AD
Ring my Bell.

Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta laboratory invents the first audio tape recorder, which uses wax-covered paper coated in a solution of beeswax and paraffin. Critics brand it “pungent”.

A brief history of sound design technology
1910 AD
All we hear is... radio opera.

The first ever radio broadcast is, er, broadcast. It’s a live performance by several opera singers from the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City (pictured). Civilisation braces itself for The Archers.

A brief history of sound design technology
1955 AD
Ross 'n' roll.

Ampex’s Ross Snyder develops the first ever multitrack tape recorder. The idea is stolen by a time-travelling lout from the 1980s and sold to Chuck Berry.

A brief history of sound design technology
1964 AD
You say Moog, I say... Moog.

In a bid to achieve worldwide fame and have his name pronounced incorrectly for the next 50 years, Robert Moog releases the first commercial synthesiser. His plan works perfectly.

A brief history of sound design technology
1979 AD
The electric Fairlight orchestra.

Australian boffins release the first commercial synth with sampling capability: the CMI Fairlight Series I. The ten-year-old Sean Combs has no idea of this event, or the enormous significance it has for him personally.

A brief history of sound design technology
1996 AD
Cubase comes of age.

Steinberg releases Cubase VST 3.0, software that enables multitrack audio recording on a home computer. Thousands of children born in the same year will go on to use its successors to create SpongeBob SquarePants-themed dubstep tracks.

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