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Audio Recording from Edison to Virtual Reality: Legends, History, Technology and Business


In less than 150 years, the means of recording and replaying sound has developed from a barely intelligible tinfoil recording of Thomas Edison saying “Mary had a little lamb” to immersive digital sonic environments which transport us to virtual worlds. This course will cover the inventions, technical discoveries and engineering refinements that have incrementally improved the realism of recorded sound—from mechanical acoustic recording to electronic analog High Fidelity to today’s digital era. Along the way, we’ll discuss the drama behind the scenes—patent disputes, format wars, corporate takeovers, synergies and competition with radio and motion pictures and the evolution of popular music. We’ll learn about some techniques of recording studio magic—tape editing, mixing, multi-track recording, automation, sampling, digital effects, spatial audio and AI. Sound recording technology continues to create a rich, shared and enduring history of voices, music and experiences. Students will enjoy exhibits and demonstrations of many antique, vintage, classic and cutting-edge devices and media to illustrate the evolution of sound recording and music production.

Instructor Biography

Barry Cook, Ph.D., is a lifelong audio hobbyist and musician, a semi-professional recording engineer and a collector of audio gear. He has taught psychology, sociology, statistics and research methods at CUNY and Yale University and has worked as an audience researcher in the network TV industry.

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