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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Music and technology




Music has always been a great source of entertainment for people. Music relaxes and reinvigorates the mind. Music has also been used by psychologists to cure patients. Now 140 years ago people can only hear music only when some talented singers and musicians played it. It was all live performance for there was no way in which we can store the music at that time. 

Now music is nothing but rhythmic sound. Sound is a set of waves in air or in other words sound is disturbances in air that are propagated as waves. In 1877 Thomas Alva Edison made the first mechanical device that store and reproduce sound , this device was called the "Phonograph" which later came to be known as the "Gramophone".


Edison with his Phonograph



It was the first device of its kind in the history of humanity. Edison's phonograph could record sound on a tinfoil sheet phonograph cylinder and it could later play the sound as well. The phonograph comprised of a stylus the circuit around the stylus was arranged with magnets . So when the sound was recorded the corresponding sound waves was converted into physical movements of the stylus that would etch out the corresponding disturbances on the tinfoil sheet.

When the tinfoil sheet was used to play the sound the movement of the stylus would generate electrical pulses which would be amplified and corresponding sound were generated. Later on many scientists worked on this phonograph and kept improving it. The cylinder was ultimately replaced with flat vinyl disk. Very soon they became the major source of storing music and playing music for many decades till audio cassettes and tape recorders took over in the late 1970s.

The advent of audio cassettes reduced the use of vinyl Cd's and gramophone significantly. In case of audio tapes, there was a tape with magnetic material in the cassettes that contained the audio information in terms of analogue magnetic information. It can be written and rewritten multiple times.

The read head of the tape recorder worked on the principle of electromagnetic induction. When a particular portion of the tape passed under the read-write head it would generate electrical signals that would be amplified and the vibration of the speaker would generate corresponding sound waves in air and thus we heard music and sound. 

When recording sound using a tape recorder, the portion of the magnetic tape that passed through the read-write head would have its tiny magnets rearranged depending on the electrical signals. Tape recorders were a rage in the late 70s ,80s and early 90s. 
Audio Cassete
Tape Recorder and Player




Japanese electronics company named Sony brought the Walkman which made it possible for people to listen to recorded music on the go. The Walkman was a small tape recorder with earphones that the user placed in his ears to listen music. 


Sony Walkman


Now tape recorders used analogue recording technology and developments in computer science and technology were making digital electronics popular. So in the 90s there came speakers that can be connected to a computer to play music. The music was stored in the computer as digital information in the form of 0s and 1s , the sound card that was placed on the mother board would generate electrical signals corresponding to the digital information and the speaker would convert this electrical signals into vibrations that would produce sound in air.
Computer Speakers
                                     
          
The quality of sound(music) with digital technology turned out to be far superior than the analogue sound. However there was one drawback back then the encoding formats of digital music did not have algorithms that compressed it significantly so the music files were huge for those times. 

But in time new formats came in , the mp3 format was a revolution because this technology actually eliminated those sounds that were not heard by humans form the music files, thus making the music files smaller and at the same time the storage technology was improving by leaps and bounds, it was actually doubling every two years.

So storing music became cheaper and easier and with the advent of Internet one was simply able to download music from the Internet anytime, anywhere he or she wanted to. 

Then came those little Mp3 players that stored and played music. Apple Computers saw opportunity in this field and came out with their iconic product i-Pod that made it possible to download , store and play music anywhere and anytime. The quality of music in i-Pod was very rich and the marketing done by Steve Jobs in popularising this product made it a rage in the entire world. 


iPod
                                  

At the same time mobile phones were getting better and better and then you had mobile phones that can actually play music. Today there is not a single mobile phone sold in the world that does not have this feature of playing mp3 music. Mobile phones have become major source of not only communication but also entertainment and information. 



Mobile phone with earphone
                                       


Most of the songs downloaded form the Internet is downloaded in some mobile device. Today we have come to a point where anyone can connect his mobile phone to the Internet and the download music and play it anywhere he/she wants to and it doesn't cost any money at all. Most of the music downloads that are done world wide are done free of cost. 

So science and technology has played a big role in the way in which we used to hear music and sound. Today for  99.9% of music heard by a person would be recorded music. Live music is only heard in a music concert or if you have any singer in your family or in your neighbourhood.

Thanks to technology people have more access to quality music than they ever had in the history of mankind. It is knowledge of sound, materials , electronics etc and corresponding developments in technology that has made this possible. 

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