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ARSCLIST  August 2014

ARSCLIST August 2014

Subject:

Re: Accidental stereo (again)

From:

George Brock-Nannestad <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 31 Aug 2014 12:34:12 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (152 lines)

From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad



Hello,

I rarely contribute to the list these days, but when the old myths concerning 
stereo are called upon again, it is time to step in with some historical 
background.

The post that started this long thread (until it disappeared into 
phantom-powered ribbon mikes) was Lani Spahr's from 5 August 2014.

However, let me state once and for all: there is no reason to believe in 
accidental stereo, unless we have an absolutely stable timebase in both 
channels, and identical at that. If you take any two mechanical recordings of 
the identical performance, even via the same mike feed, you will inevitably 
obtain spaciousness due to flutter in one or both channels, which by willing 
ears is interpreted as stereo. The general public is gullible and will 
eagerly grasp anything that is presented as unexpected, such as the 
experience by Brad Kay and Steve Lasker in 1985 concerning Duke Ellington. By 
the way, the same gullibility goes for the "phonograph effect" invented by 
Mark Katz in 1994 and "proved" by the increase in vibrato in violin 
performance after recordings came along. He had no interest in listening to 
meek protests that it was merely another, already existing performance 
tradition or "school" growing in those years. And his PhD supervisors 
obviously knew no better, but were dazzled.

Secondly, my years of study of the acoustic recording process, including 
research in the EMI Music Archives and the Eldridge R. Johnson Archive (in 
Wyoming, not the photocopies in Dover, Delaware) have never revealed that two 
recording setups were used in acoustic recording. The quality of the 
recording was much too dependent on having precise distances from the 
performers to the horn(s). Hence, no "usually from both sides of the room". 
If anybody has a reference that shows that e.g. Columbia (whose sound is 
frequently more distant, although very clear) had the practice of doubling, I 
would be very interested to have my views changed.

Now for some real stereo. Arthur C. Keller was a proud man, and he 
fortunately wrote a posthumously published book that is a must for all 
historians of recorded sound: "Reflections of a Stereo Pioneer", San 
Francisco Press, Inc., 1986.

On p. 53 he starts his account of his work with stereo. He mentions stereo 
recordings made by systems as later re-invented by de Boer (Philips) and Cook 
in having an inner area and an outer area and synchronised pickups. This was 
on April 28, 1928. He says "That stereo system was not thought to be 
patentable". He does not say who said it: the in-house BTL patent department 
or the authority, the United States Patent Office. 

If Bell Labs had filed patent applications, they would have met the prior 
filed applications by W. Bartlett Jones of Chicago. He began filing 
applications on stereo recording on 13 April 1927, most aptly entitled 
"Methods and means for the ventriloquial production of sound", and his 4 
patents issued quite late, all April 19, 1932. Another Jones creating havoc 
in the history of disc recording!

This late issuance of his patents filed 1927-29 could have been caused by 
so-called interference proceedings: the USPTO had to determine who had been 
the first to invent and first to reduce to practice of several virtually 
simultaneous applicants. The activities of Bell Labs would inevitably make 
them file patent applications, and they would inevitably clash with Jones'. 
There can be no doubt that the late 1920s experiments at BTL were in fact 
using Jones' ideas.

I have not investigated it, but there is a good chance that the old file 
wrappers of Jones' patents are still available. Mind you, it would only be 
Jones', because at that time US patent applications were held in secrecy 
until the patents issued. Once granted, they had a life of 17 years. I cannot 
imagine that BTL did not take out licenses from Jones if they wanted to sell 
stereo records. But that was not their line of business, and experimenting 
does not require a license. However, they apparently never acknowledged 
Jones, because if they had, many myths would not have existed.

But the first patent that I have been able to find concerning stereo disc 
recording is by Franklin M. Doolittle assigned to RCA. It was filed in 1921 
and was only granted in 1931, so again here, there may have been interference 
proceedings. He talks about "two separate versions of the same sounds, which 
versions may differ in phase relation". He used two parallel mono grooves, 
i.e. half as many grooves per inch on a side.

Keller's first single-groove attempts used band splitting to reduce 
distortion and the result from the combined lateral-vertical pickup would 
combine to make a mono sound. No stereo here.

Next we should mention that Keller's first single-groove stereo records were 
made by the multiplex system, in essence using a sub-carrier, much like 
Haddy's original stereo system and the much later 4-channel systems.

It was not until 1936 that Keller and Rafuse applied for a patent for a 
stereo groove as we know it, and it was not published until 1938.

In the meantime, Blumlein had writen his complete stereo system patent 
application in 1931, which was patented in England as GB 394,325, all 70 
claims, which were directed to most of the well-known details of stereo. It 
also issued in the US, with no more than 18 claims (a rarity for US patents), 
and although it was filed in 1932 it was only granted on September 21, 1937. 
The claims were not to details but to systems. No doubt this patent also had 
met with considerable problems, most likely filed with all 70 claims, perhaps 
interference proceedings. I am quite convinced that the BTL patent department 
knew all about this, but perhaps they had a policy of not wanting to scare 
their inventors off. Keller recounts on p. 55 that John G. Frayne had learnt 
about Blumlein from the inhouse Bell Lab patent department, and Keller heard 
it from Frayne.

One reason that the above US patents were not cited against Blumlein's  
British patent application was that under the patent act in force, the 
application was examined, using only British patents from the last 100 years 
as prior art. A US patent would have been irrelevant at the time. And the 
relevant patents would have been too late, anyway.

On p. 101 Keller quotes ARSC member Tom Owen, who said "The truth is that 
EMI, in order to circumvent the Westrex patent and the subsequent payment of 
royalties, embarked on a separate course of stereo reproduction under A. D. 
Blumlein, including a moving-coil cutting system, which was not under Westrex 
patents. Keller said "This was all news to me".

Well, Tom was not correct, or Keller misinterpreted him. EMI did not try to 
circumvent any Westrex stereo patents, because there weren't any in 1931, but 
the rubber line recorder patents for mono recording. And when Blumlein 
developed this, it was still under Schoenberg at Columbia, pre-merger. 

Incidentally, Alex Kogan wrote a post to ARSCLIST on 19 March 2008 concerning 
an "Instrument of Gift of Keller Recordings" to the Library of Congress. Go 
consult.

A final remark concerns stereo recording on film. The earliest I have been 
able to find concerns sound and image on the same film, and stereo at that, 
by Augustus Rosenberg, British patent No. 23,620 from 1911. It mentions all 
the advantages that we still enjoy today.

There are plenty of leads to follow concerning the development of stereo, and 
modern history-writing should move above the mere  traditional 
Blumlein-Keller controversy. A good place to start is the book from 1960 by 
John Sunier: "The Story of Stereo: 1881-", Gernsback Library Inc., if only 
for the references provided.

After having written the above I googled W.Bartlett. Jones, and apart from a 
couple of Polish web sites, googlebooks had one reference to a book on Frank 
Sinatra (by Granata in 2003) in which Jones is mentioned. However, the author 
conflates Jones with the accidental stereo Ellington.

The timeline from LibCon found in the same search also mentions Jones, but is 
completely silent on BTL, which is unfair. 


Best wishes,



George

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