Microphones Changed Music in the 1920s

In 1925, the condenser microphone began to be widely used in music studios. These convert sound waves into electrical signals. Before that, recordings were made by machines without electricity.

Acoustical Recording Machines

We’ll see a video showing people singing into very long horns. Their voices (or instruments) had to vibrate an attached diaphragm that was usually glass. Doesn’t that sound hard? Professional singers needed a big voice and the ability to sustain the volume. The glass moved a stylus, which cut a groove into rotating hard wax.

Acoustical recording machines couldn’t record singers with lower or higher voices. A baritone was too low, so men tended to be tenors. In this acoustical recording of Eddie Cantor, note how he projects his voice.

Here is a video: How the Microphone Changed the Way We Sing.


These two recordings show why Bessie Smith was called the Empress of the Blues. The condenser microphone came into wide use in 1925, so I have chosen recordings of her from 1923 and 1929. There’s a big difference in the sound.

Bessie Smith sings Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home (1923)

Bessie Smith sings I’ve Got What It Takes (1929)

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Finding Art Nouveau in Paris

Energetic design. Asymmetrical, yet balanced. This whole apartment building, Castel Béranger, is Art Nouveau. It was architect Hector Guimard’s first important work, and it was noticed.

Geolina163 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Geolina 163 / CC BY-SA

Soon afterwards, he was awarded a commission to design entrances to the new Metro. There had been a design competition, but Guimard had not officially entered it.

Photograph by Pamela Tartaglio

The structure is iron, exposed, and made decorative. These are characteristics of Art Nouveau architecture. The iron is painted green and in forms that suggest plants, flowers, and Crustacean-like designs (below). These entrances made Guimard famous, but at first Parisians weren’t sure that they liked them. The cast iron could be made elsewhere, so this was practical.

Photograph by Pamela Tartaglio

One of Guimard’s entrances is in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Huge plant-like stalks have flowers or buds which are actually amber glass lamps.

Paris in the 1890s

People sensed a stagnation in the western world. They called their time fin de siè·cle, meaning “end of the century.” They looked forward to the 1900s and wanted change. Paris was to host a world’s fair, and the Metro was built in anticipation of this 1900 Paris Exposition.

An Art Nouveau Church

I love surprises when I travel, and I spotted this around the corner from the charming Metro entrance I photographed (Abbesses, in Montmartre, Paris).

The door was open, so I went inside.

It’s a more restrained Art Nouveau. There’s no asymmetry as in the gate by Guimard. The style is subdued because it is a sacred space and maybe because it’s a departure from the other churches in Paris, which are older and traditional in style. This is considered the first modern church in Paris.

The curving balustrades sparkle.

Photo by Pamela Tartaglio

The Church of Saint John (St. Jean) was built over several years that spanned 1900. It took so long because construction was halted due to concerns over structural safety. The building passed tests, and the world’s first church made of reinforced concrete was completed in 1904. The architect was Anatole de Baudot.

Imagine. Those Metro entrances were being built at the same time as this.

My next post will appear on July 1. I hope you enjoyed Paris.

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Sheltering at Home

It’s National Public Gardens Week, and the only garden I have seen is at my house. (I feel lucky to have that.)

I miss the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. This was once the home of Henry and Arabella Huntington.

The “Temple of Love,” above, is surrounded by “Passionate Kisses” roses.

The Huntington has a newer Chinese Garden.

But We’re at Home

Adults can print and color pages from America’s Garden Coloring Book. The Huntington is featured, and there are origami projects.

The Huntington is also an art museum, famous for Blue Boy. Due to the pandemic, this is the kind of art I am seeing now, at home.

I love how this art is stylized. There are no gradations of color in the birds, and the angle of their wings is precise. You may have noticed that the puzzle has only 300 pieces. I ordered puzzles when I began to confine myself to my home, and I got easy ones. Slim pickings online, by the way.

I was also not above buying cheerful puzzles which I will one day share with the children in my family. Really, I will. I need happy, easy activities now.

Goofy Movies

I have seen recent silly movies too many times to watch them again. Dumb and Dumber. Happy Gilmore.

For comedies I haven’t seen a dozen times, I watched some from the 1960s. After the Fox stars Peter Sellers, and my brothers and I must have watched this every time it came on TV. I never found a video or DVD of it, and I was afraid it had faded into obscurity. I found it on Amazon Prime.

The famous playwright Neil Simon wrote the screenplay, and the music is by Oscar-winner Burt Bacharach. Here’s the original trailer, from 1966:

Can you recommend a favorite goofy movie?

I’ll get serious this week, and next weekend, we’ll see a bit of Paris from 1900, the Fin de Siecle. Stay safe.

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