From Berliner to RCA Victor: The Birth and Rise of the Recording Industry in Canada

By Biel, Michael | ARSC Journal, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

From Berliner to RCA Victor: The Birth and Rise of the Recording Industry in Canada


Biel, Michael, ARSC Journal


From Berliner to RCA Victor: The Birth and Rise of the Recording Industry in Canada. Gala Records GAL-112, www.Galarecords.ca (Contents listing available on the web site).

The same photograph of inventor Emile Berliner inspecting a record master serves as the introduction to two very different historical CD/book tributes to two different branches of the international Berliner Gramophone organization. The one under discussion here is a single disc in a jewel-case with a 79-page jewel-case size bi-lingual booklet. The other, Deutsche Grammophon: State of the Art, is a 2-CD set in a large and heavy 224 page hardbound book in a slipcase.

From Berliner to RCA Victor: The Birth and Rise of the Recording Industry in Canada is an interesting and affordable souvenir of Canadian recordings. Produced by Jean-Pierre Sevigny with additional research by Robert Therien, it is a commemoration of the exhibit "Montreal, Cradle of the Recording Industry" held in the Emile Berliner Museum in Montreal in 2008. The booklet is well illustrated, and except for some of the usual personal portraits--a patent, a famous photo of an acoustical recording session in Camden (which should have been identified as such) and two photos of the first Berliner store in Montreal--these pictures have not been widely seen before and with those exceptions do not appear in either Edward Moogk's Roll Back The Years (1975) or Mark Caruana-Dingli's The Berliner Gramophone: An Illustrated History (2005). The latter book includes a fine reproduction of a different photo of Emile Berliner from the photo session where he inspects a master disc, but copies of this CD includes a color reproduction of a painting based on the inspection photo. I'm going to go into great detail of the material in the booklet, but despite what I seem to be saying, the errors I note are relatively minor and should not dissuade anyone from adding this great little item to their collection. I just thought that readers should know what's in need of correction.

The factory photos are of the greatest interest to me, and there are some from the 1910s, '40s and '50s. Some are also seen in two interesting articles that are only identified as coming from "RCA Publication 1946." Exact bibliographic details of these should have been included in the listing of sources that was at the end of the text. The Montreal recording studio must have been a striking room. Two gowned ladies are seen in the "Salle des matrices" in 1910 but surely they are not playing matrices on those two outside horn Victors. Is that a 1910s pressing room or matrix plating room on the lower left of page 76? Various cutting and pressing scenes are always valuable to see. Altogether there are eight labels pictured, only the one on the cover is in color, and that one barely so. They should have moved the early brown Gram-O-Phone label--shown inside in black and white--alongside it in color, and showed some other more interesting varieties instead of the ones chosen. But considering that there is absolutely no discographie data given for any of the recordings included, at least it is good that five of the eight labels were for recordings on the CD, and two more for included artists. Ironically, the artist on the label on the cover is not included.

A few of the photos seem to be misdated. The photo "RCA recording console, 1935" is an RCA broadcast console BC-5 which is a post-war product that doesn't appear in any of the RCA's catalogs or price lists in the 1930s and '40s until at least after the 24 June 1946 price list. (It caught my eye because it was the console in Temple University's Studio D, installed in 1948, which was the very first broadcast console I ever operated!) It is definitely not the console in the fuzzy picture next to it of "RCA sound engineer DelMotte" taken from an article identified elsewhere as 1946. The quaint photo "Usine de la Berliner Gramophone dans les annes 1920" shows the factory with a large roof sign "The Home of the Victrola" and a small Victorian era cottage immediately adjacent. …

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