Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


APRS and RCM remember a time before microphones

The APRS and Vulcan Cylinder Record Company will host a workshop exploring wax-cylinder studio techniques from the early 20th century

On Tuesday 26 May the Association of Professional Recording Services (APRS), in association with the Vulcan Cylinder Record Company and Royal College of Music Studios, will host a recording session workshop exploring wax-cylinder studio techniques from the early 20th century.

Before There were Microphones, at Belle Shenkman Recording Studio at the Royal College of Music, London (pictured), will be presented by the Vulcan Cylinder Record Company’s Duncan Miller, who has made acoustic recordings on cylinder and disc since the early 1980s and recently appeared on BBC Four series Sound of Song with Neil Brand. Using typical machinery and methods used in the formative years of the recording industry, and with the assistance of student musicians, he will produce wax cylinder master records in front of a live audience.

He explains: “Depending on the performers available we will be selecting recording horn, choosing the right diaphragm, positioning performers for the correct balance and doing a number of tests to ensure that we are getting a result that will please the public and play well on the phonograph in the managing director’s office – the benchmark of early recording quality.

“It is possible that we shall cover such subjects as blasting, wax blank preparation, advance ball recorder setting, horn resonance, diaphragm resonance and sensitivity versus frequency response. We may even touch on the format wars in the relative merits of cylinders and discs. [The workshop is] a chance to get all those questions answered as to how the cylinder and disc records that founded the industry were made in the 30-year period that preceded the introduction of the microphone.”

In addition to the recordings made by the RCM student performers, there may be an opportunity for attendees to make their own recording: “If you are a budding star of wax cylinder and can bring your own instrument, mention this when you reserve your place for the evening,” explains the association. “However, places for this opportunity will be limited to the first two to request a spot.”

Everyone will have a chance to record at the end of the session when Miller leads the whole audience in a ‘descriptive selection’ – the name given to novelty recordings of the era. With this in mind, audience members are encouraged to bring along their favourite acoustic sound effect: the APRS says “coconut shells, duck calls, swannee whistles and car horns are all welcome for the riotous waxy finale”.

The workshop begins at 7pm, but an optional pre-event tour of the Royal College of Music will set off at six.

To reserve your place, contact the APRS’s Francesca Smith on 01803 868 600 or The event is free and open to APRS members, employees of APRS member companies and students of APRS member institutions, as well as members of the MPG, AMPS, IPS, BKSTS and AES.

Photo: Uli Harder