In this assignment I am first going to be looking at the technical developments of sound, focusing on how it was first invented in twenties America.
I will be using the framework of invention, innovation, and diffusion which provides a powerful basic methodology to analyze the introduction of any technology to structure my assignment.
In addition, I will be then discussing the contextual factors where I'll look at the developments of sound in terms of context in which they occurred, and take on board other contextual factors - for example economics and the effect economics had on the industry.
One approach to technological change takes into account the larger economic context can be adapted to the technological history of the cinema from the field of industrial economics. 1The first steps in the economic analysis of a particular technological change involve establishing the basic structure of the industry under consideration, and the industry's closet competitors in the years prior to that technological change. In the case of the movies the latter might include vaudeville, popular music, phonograph records, live theatre, television, and /or other leisure-time industries - depending on the time frame of the study. Having set forth this industrial context, the historian can move on to consider the three stages in the introduction of any new product or process in other words, the technological change itself.
The first of stages is the development of the invention necessary for effecting the introduction of a new product or process.1
Efforts to link sound to motion pictures originated in the 1890s, where entrepreneurs experimented with mechanical means to combine the phonograph and motion pictures. In 1895 Thomas Alva Edison introduced a device called the Kinetophone.
He did not try to synchronize sound and image, so the Kinetophone just supplied a musical accompaniment to which a customer listened as he or she viewed a "peep show". Edison's basic innovation met with public indifference. Yet, at the same time many inventors attempted to better Edison's efforts, but none of them was able to solve the synchronization and amplification problem.
Attempting to do just this was a French inventor, engineer, and industrialist Leon Gaumont. He invented a system that linked a single projector to two phonographs by means of a series of cables. A dial adjustment synchronized the phonograph and motion picture. He demonstrated his system the Chronophone before the French photographic society in 1902 and attempted to profit from his system by recording popular American variety (vaudeville) acts using his Chronophone sound system.
Five years later, his first performance came to London and impressed the American monopoly and the motion picture patents company, licensed Chronophone for the Untied States. Within one year Garmonts range included opera, recitations, and even dramatic sketches. But despite Garmonts prospects, the Chronophone failed to attract large audiences on a sustained basis. The system failed to secure a niche in the marketplace because it was expensive to install, produced only course sounds, lacked the necessary amplification, and rarely remained synchronized for long, so because of this the scheme was finally dropped.
In 1913 five years later after Leon Gaumont's system had been failed, Edison bravely announced his laboratory had perfected a superior sound motion picture system. He returned to the United States for a second try with what he claimed was an improved synchronizing mechanism and an advance compressed air system for amplification.
The Edison Company was able to persuade the powerful Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit to try out his new and improved Kinetophone in four New York theatres. On February 13, 1913, the premiere took place, with four entertaining shorts.
But again it was clear that Edison Labs had not overcome problems of synchronization and amplification. Projectionists frequently unsuccessful to maintain the delicate balance necessary to preserve synchronized speech, nor could the Kinetophone eliminate the metallic sounds associated with the acoustical phonographs of that time. After several months of attempted innovation, and two failed attempts Edison abandoned sound movies completely.
Nine years later sound emerged on the principle of sound on film, not on discs.
On April 4, 1923, noted radio pioneer, Lee de Forest demonstrated his Phonofilm system for the press. De Forest not backed by a large corporation, tried to market his invention using only his own limited resources, and nearly went bankrupt funding a distribution network. But De forest struggled on, but in September 1928, when he sold out to a group of South African businessmen only three Phonofilm installations remained, all in the U.S.
2 It took the scientists and resources of the world's largest company, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) more than ten years to succeed where others had failed to perfect a satisfactory sound-on-film system. By 1922 they had developed a much improved loudspeaker, microphone, and turntable drive shaft. Labelled "electronic sound", these inventions produced a volume and tone far superior to then conventional "acoustical" recording. 2
Technological determinism has been summarized as 'The belief in technology as a key governing force in society the belief that social progress is driven by technological innovation, which in turn follows an "inevitable" course.'The idea that technological development determines social change the belief that technical forces determine social and cultural changes. a three-word logical proposition: "Technology determines history"
Technological determinism stands in opposition to the theory of the social construction of technology, which holds that both the path of innovation and the consequences of technology for humans are strongly if not entirely shaped by society itself, through the influence of culture, politics, economic arrangements, and the like. Technological determinism has been largely discredited within academia, especially by science and technology studies. However, it remains the dominant view within most news media and popular culture. (www.wikipedia.org)
Thomas Edison, Lee De Forest and Theodore Case (who are mentioned in the innovation stage), all played a part in the technological history in cinema. "The great man" approach to technologial change concentrates on the steps leading to a major breakthrough and on the individual responsible for it.
3 Other film historians have concentrated on what thet see as the determining effect of these technical breakthoughs themselves on the futurecourse of the film history, shifting the focus from person to machine and from invention to the aesthetic consequence of that invention. Such historians might be called technological determinists, in that the presume, as Raymond Williams notes that
New technologies are discovered by an essentially internal process of research and development, which then sets the conditions for social change and process. The effects of the technologies whther direct or indirect, forseen or unforeseen, are, as it were, the rest of history. 3
According to this view, film history becomes (1) inventions, plus (2) the consequences that follows from their availability.
Once the system of innovation is initially adopted for practical use, it becomes an innovation.
The innovation stage of technological change involves a firm altering its past methods of production, distribution and/or marketing because it has determined that the adoption of the invention will result in greater long term profits.
Warners learned of AT&T new sound recording technology and linked with AT&T and incorporated the new technology into its plans for growth, and would eventually be the company to innovate sound motion pictures.
4 The coming of sound during the late 1920's climaxed a decade of significant change within the American industry. By the spring of 1926 experiments with sound were going so well, and Warners formed the Vitaphone cooperation to contract for the development sound motion picture and shifted for innovation into high gear and signed up stars from vaudeville acts. 4
By 1927 100 U.S theatres could play Vitaphone shorts. However AT&T was dissatisfied with what they perceived as slow progress on Warners' part and eventually AT&T terminated the 1926 agreement, paid Warners $1,300,000, and issued Vitaphone a nonexclusive licence for sound. Warners had lost important power, but were now free to resume its slow and steady path for growth, including the innovation of motion pictures with sound.
Now on its own, Warner immediately moved all production to several new sound stages in Hollywood, Vitaphone regularly turned out five shorts a week, which become known in the industry as "canned vaudeville."
During 1927-28, Vitaphone began to add new forms of sound films to its program. Feature films would contain "Vitaphoned" sequences. The first effort The Jazz singer, filmed on Warners' newly completed Hollywood sound stage, premiered in October 6, 1927. It had four Vitaphone segments of Al Jolson's songs proved very popular. Vitaphoned first tried a new formula for motion pictures with sound as a short, and if the response was positive the programming innovation would become part of Warners "Vitaphoned" features.
5 On December 4, 1928, Vitaphone released a ten-minute comedy short, My wife's gone away its first all talkie story film. Critics praised the short. Then Vitaphone released a twenty-minute, all-talkie narrative film, Solomon's Children. Again revenues were high. The Jazz singer and its accompanying sound shorts, gradually emerged as the 1927-1928 movie season's most popular box-office attraction, and within one year, Warners' innovation of sound earned millions of dollars in profits. 5
However Warner Bros. was not the only innovator of sound, nor was AT&T the sole developer of a system of sound recording. The inventions of the Fox system were based on the work of inventor Theodore W. Case and his laboratory. His efforts were directed towards the production of reproduction equipment to integrate the Thalofide Cell into a sound-on-film recording system.
Turning all rights over to Fox film Case contract an outlet. Then on February 24, 1927, Fox staged a widely publicized press demonstration of the newly christened Movietone system where Fox presented several vaudeville sound shorts.
However Warners had concerned the market for vaudeville shorts by signing an excusive contract with the most popular performers. Fox needed a cost-effect marketing strategy and reconsidered an earlier plan: newsreels with sound. Sound newsreels would provide a logical method by which Fox could gradually perfect necessary new techniques of camerawork and editing, and test the market at minimal cost.
Warners were still ahead of Fox, when the spring of 1928 arrived talkies became the newest fad of the 1920s. Before 1928 Fox-Case had released only one silent film, with a recorded score, Sunrise. Boldly Fox declared that all future products would be completely "Movietoned." Fox could film and record out doors where as Warners' disc system required studio conditions.
By 1929, based on its successful innovation of sound through newsreels, and its expanded network of distribution and exhibition outlets, Fox films neared the peak of the U.S. film industry, a climb only rivalled by the other innovator of sound, Warner Bros. The innovation stage for sound was now finished.
The Process of diffusion begins once the technology begins to receive widespread use within an industry. The widespread adoption of sound took place quickly and smoothly, because of the extensive planning of the producers' committee. Since the enormous potential for profits existed, it was incumbent on the majors to make the switchover as rapid as possible. By September 1928 Paramount released pictured contained talking sequences and by January 1929, it sent out its all-talking production.
6 By September 1929 the full transformation to sound had been completed. Hollywood would subsequently only produce talkies. The result was greater profits that anytime in industry history. AT&T prospered because of royalties, the large theatre circuit (which were wired for sound first) grew stronger and paramount and Loew's, joined by Warner Bros., Fox, and the Radio Corporation of American-sponsored Radio Keith Orpheum, now formed the U.S film industry "Big Five" companies. The structure of the industry, now formed by Warners, Paramount, Fox, Loew's and RKO, would continue to operate well into the 1950's. 6
To summarize the economic context of the coming of sound, - technological innovation became big business in the American economy, sound technology developed by big corporations. The Corporations approached Hollywood to develop sound, not the other way round. Initiative not from studios (to improve product), but from corporations (to increase profit)
Economics of film industry sound systems developed by smaller studios (Warners, Fox) as means of getting 'edge' over bigger competitors. Bigger studios were not interested in sound as they were making huge profits from silent system. There was not suggestion that audience interest in silent was diminishing. Talking pictures had problems of language barriers for foreign markets. The effect of economics on the industry was that the conversion to sound was very expensive which prohibitive cost to allow new competitors to come into being. The cost of conversion increased roles of banks in film industry, giving them a say in the business, so sound did not jus come to movies by a process of natural 'evolution' it was determined by particular forces.
Technological determinism proposes that technology is the driving force in new developments - that is, once the technology becomes available for something, that "something" will happen it will follow on inevitably. The problem with this idea is that this sometimes doesn't happen. For example, the original Edison phonograph, patented in 1878, was developed as a business dictating device, and it took nearly a decade for it to be used for popular entertainment.