An incredible find from the Library of Congress — Bray Studios’ 1923 silent film, The Immortal Voice. Now posted on YouTube, it takes the viewer through Columbia’s entire recording and production process.
Filmed in Columbia’s New York studio and Bridgeport, Connecticut factory, it begins with an acoustical recording session by Rosa Ponselle and orchestra — staged for the camera, of course, but giving a good idea of how a real session might have looked, and how closely the musicians had to huddle (look for the horned Stroh violins, a necessary evil in the acoustic days).
From there the film traces the path of the wax master, from auditioning and plating to the pressing of a finished disc. At the end is a surprise tribute to Victor’s Enrico Caruso, with footage purporting to be him onstage at the Met — making it pretty unlikely that the film was commissioned by Columbia.
Our thanks to the ever-vigilant John Bolig for passing along the link.
Many of the records in Gramophone & Typewriter’s February 1904 catalog were also issued in the U.S. as Victor Imported Red Seal Records. Details of those issues (many of which are now quite rare, and correspondingly expensive) can be found in John Bolig’s Victor Red Seal Discography, Vol. I .
Victor soon adopted a policy of replacing imported recordings like these with their own domestically recorded versions whenever possible, as happened with many of the Caruso and Plancon offerings.
You can find more on the early history of the Red Seal in A Phonograph in Every Home: The Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1909-1919, also available from Mainspring Press.
Caruso hamming it up for the Universal camera crew and 1915’s version of the Paparazzi, from Motion Picture World (March 13, 1915). We have no idea whether the close-up of his “vocal organs” has survived.
Courtesy of John Bolig, author of The Victor Discography Series
Summer was a notorious “dead zone” for record production and sales, as a glance through the early trade journals makes clear. This was a time to scour the backlogs of less-appealing recordings to sacrifice during Dog Days, as happened with Victor’s August list 1914. All of the Red Seal and blue-label recordings shown here had been sitting on the shelf since early April, and many other August listings were even older recordings.
Courtesy of John Bolig, author of The Victor Discography Series.
Courtesy of John R. Bolig, author of The Victor Discography Series, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.
These celebrity shots graced the back covers of various Victor record supplements during 1908–1909 (courtesy of John Bolig). The internal-horn “Victrola” was still relatively new at this time, during which it was sold alongside the traditional external-horn machines — the latter were called simply “The Victor,” never “Victrola,” which was reserved for inside-horn models.