The Art and Science of Acoustic Recording: Re-enacting Arthur Nikisch and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s landmark 1913 recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

April 21st, 2015 | RESEARCH

The Art and Science of Acoustic Recording was a collaborative project between the Royal College of Music and the Science Museum that saw an historic orchestral recording from 1913 re-enacted by musicians, researchers and sound engineers at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in 2014. The original recording was an early attempt to capture the sound of a large orchestra without re-scoring or substituting instruments and represents a step towards phonographic realism. Using replicated recording technology, media and techniques of the period, the re-enactment recorded two movements of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on to wax discs – the first orchestral acoustic recordings made since 1925. The aims were primarily to investigate the processes and practices of acoustic sound recording, developed largely through tacit knowledge, and to derive insights into the musicians’ experience of recording acoustically. Furthermore, the project sought to discover what the acoustic recordings of the past do – and don't – communicate to listeners today. Archival sources, historic apparatus and early photographic evidence served as groundwork for the re-enactment and guided its methodology, while the construction of replicas, wax manufacture and sound engineering were carried out by an expert in the field of acoustic recording. The wax recordings were digitised and some processed to produce disc copies playable on gramophone, thus replicating the entire course of recording, processing, duplication and reproduction. It is suggested that the project has contributed to a deeper understanding of early recordings and has provided a basis for further reconstructions of historical recording sessions.


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Team Members

Aleks Kolkowski, Author, Science Museum
Duncan Miller, Author, Vulcan Cylinder Record Company
Amy Blier-Carruthers, Author, Royal Academy of Music


Identifier Type: doi
Identifier: 10.15180/150302

Publication: Science Museum Group Journal
Volume: 1
Number: 3

Related URLs

Full Text via Science Museum Group Journal


Audience: General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Art | music | theater | Engineering | General STEM | History | policy | law | Technology
Resource Type: Peer-reviewed article | Research Products
Environment Type: Museum and Science Center Programs | Public Programs