Sometimes in the world of cinema, we gave much importance to the image and we forget about sound. But as the audiovisual word indicates, sound is an equal or more important part. In this post, we will make a brief review of the history of sound in the world of cinema and how technology has evolved over the years.
1877 – The Phonograph
The Phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison. This device can record and reproduce sound. But it had a clear technological problem. It had a large horn, but it could not reach many people in a theatre, it only served for a small space.
Edison gave not importance to that fact, because he bet that the film business it would be in coin machines, as personal entertainment, and not in the big cinemas.
1884 – The Kinetophone
The Kinetophone (is a Kinetoscope connected to a Phonograph). Dickson and Edison experimented to record sound and images together, to reproduce it in a Kinetophone.
All the devices presented until then had three problems.
- Easy to lose synchronization,
- no much amplification,
- limited recording time (5min)
When we talk about silent films, in fact, they were never silent. In 1915 the great theaters started to perform live orchestras in order to add music and effects to the video. The smaller theaters used only one piano. It is also said that to cover the noise of the projector.
1919 – Tri-Ergon process.
It is a 42mm movie that incorporates asoundtrack into a 35mm film.
Converts audio waves into electricity which drove a light. This light is photographed on the film negative. Light would shine thorough the audio strip and onto a reader which convert the light back into electricity and into sound.
That solved the synchronization problem. No the amplification one.
1927 – Vitaphone
Vitaphone was a company that was dedicated to the sound of films. The Jazz Singer it is considered the first feature film with synchronized sound. The movie only had two scenes of spoken dialects, the rest had the title cards. Its impact was enormous.
The great impact of this film caused that the silent cinema started gradually disappearing. In 1929 the 75% of Hollywood productions, have sound.
From the mono to the stereo
Until the moment, all the movies were in mono, it means than they only collected information for a single audio channel.
Walt Diney wanted to offer a higher quality sound and in 1940 they released Fantasia, the first movie with multi channel audio (stereo). This was due to the Fantasound system, which allowed a stereo sound recording.
1953 – The cinemascope
It was not until 1953 that the stereo was consolidated. This was because in the period of the World War, the states used money from cinema to military games. With Cinemascope, the panoramic image format and the use of four sound channels were implemented. The right, the left, the center and the surrounding one.
1960 – Dolby Sistem
In the 1960s, the music industry was becoming more sophisticated and the multi channel recording appeared. This was a problem when you overtook up to 16 channels, the noise it felt accumulated. Ray Dolby is the inventor of a noise reduction System, Dolby A. It was the first to be able to offer surround sound 5.1.
Star Wars was presented in 1977 with Dolby Stereo sound, and it changed the rules of sound in the cinema forever.
Nowadays – Dolby Atmos
It allows up to 128 audio tracks. Each audio track can be assigned to an audio channel. A large number of speakers, strategically placed in cinemas, is what allows this great surround sound experience.
Cinema vs Home cinema
Going to the cinema is still an experience for the viewer. Giant screen with high resolution, comfortable armchairs, quality sound, popcorn… But nowadays, we have the opportunity to enjoy a home cinema, and we can avoid long queues of people, annoying noises and choose the movie that we want with a great quality. What do you prefer? I undoubtedly, cinema at home.
The history of sound in the cinema has evolved a lot in recent years. From the Phonograph to the Dolby Atmos there are light years at the technological level and also at the level of quality. Edison said he imagined cinema as an individual entertainment in payment machines. Maybe it was not so wrong when we talk about home cinema and the fact that we enjoy this experience alone, and increasingly, we have devices that allow us a better experience.
Youtube (2018). The History of Sound at the Movies. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ot5IryUt9SM [Accessed 13 Mar. 2018].
Xataka (2018). De uno a 64 altavoces: la evolución del sonido en el cine a lo largo de los años. Available at: https://www.xataka.com/audio/de-uno-a-64-altavoces-la-evolucion-del-sonido-en-el-cine-a-lo-largo-de-los-anos [Accessed 13 Mar. 2018].
Microsiervos (2018). La historia del sonido en el cine. Available at: http://www.microsiervos.com/archivo/tecnologia/historia-sonido-cine.html [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].
Wikipedia (2018). Cine sonoro. Available at: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cine_sonoro [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].