Two new exhibits have debuted at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum that look kinda cool. The first is called “Listen to the Music: Rock and Roll and the Evolution of Audio Technology” and “shows the evolution of audio technology from the phonograph to MP3 players and explains how the small battery powered radio contributed to the growth of rock and roll.” The second is an interactive kiosk called “Sound Check” that allows visitors to guess the lyrics of famously misunderstood songs, learn about the latest hearing technology and ways to listen responsibly. Here are the details on the “Listen to the Music” permanent exhibit:
About “Listen to the Music: Rock and Roll and the Evolution of Technology”:
“Listen to the Music” examines the development of consumer audio technology over the last century, its impact on the evolution of rock and roll and its roots and on the experience of listening to rock music. The exhibit includes a graphic timeline, artifacts and listening stations containing 18 recordings made by Thomas Edison from 1877 to 1929. The exhibit will also look at the evolution of technology starting with Edison’s invention, then going through the changes in radio and radios, vinyl records and all the way to MP3 players and iPods.
“By examining some key technological developments of the last 125 years, this exhibit shows how we have been able to listen to music, in our homes and on the move. It shows how portable music is continuing to change rock and roll before our eyes,” said Jim Henke, the Museum’s vice president of exhibitions and curatorial affairs. “It covers virtually every development, from wax cylinders and Victrolas to the Walkman, the compact disc, and the iPod. It’s a great addition to the Museum’s exhibits.”
Rock and roll and consumer audio technology have evolved on a virtually parallel timeline over the course of the last century. Rock and roll developed from many roots, most notably blues and gospel music of African-Americans and country and folk music of Southern whites. All of those musical forms can be traced back to the early part of the 20th century. And, in the beginning, the only way to hear those styles of music was to hear them live, in churches, on porches, or out in the fields.
Similarly, the development of consumer audio technology — in particular, record players and radios, dates back to roughly the same period. It was in 1877 that Thomas Edison first made an audio recording on a cylinder in 1877. Marconi first invented the technology necessary for radio in 1895, but it wasn’t until 1921 that radio stations as we now know them came into being. And it was in 1924 that the first portable radios made their way into homes.
Rock and roll, as a distinct form of music, was born in the mid-1950s. At around the same time, two technological developments took place that helped cement rock and roll’s popularity. In 1954, the transistor radio came into being. This small, battery-powered unit became a favorite of teenagers, enabling them to listen to their music of choice – rock and roll – in the privacy of their bedrooms, in the car, on the beach, or wherever. At around the same time, the 45 rpm single was replacing the old 78 rpm record as the main format for pre-recorded music. Because the 45 had smaller grooves, it was capable of producing higher-quality sound. At the same time, U.S. companies were selling as many as 10 million portable record players a year. Priced at less than $50, these record players became fixtures in teens’ bedrooms and family rec rooms.
Over the next four decades, rock and roll and consumer audio continued to evolve hand in hand. In the late Sixties, for example, the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing record became the format of choice. As a result, songs were no longer limited to three minutes. At the same time, record production became more sophisticated. These changes also brought about changes in radio: free-form FM radio was introduced on the FM dial, while in England, “pirate” radio, literally broadcast from ships at sea, was born as an alternative to the conservative, restricted BBC.
The next major innovation was the Walkman, introduced by Sony of Japan in 1981. The Walkman took the concept of portability several steps further. Now music listeners were not just able to take their music with them, they could listen to it virtually anywhere without disturbing others. Two years later, the Phillips Corporation introduced the compact disc. Unlike the vinyl record, the CD was virtually indestructible – no more scratches, no more skips – and it could hold more than 80 minutes worth of music, nearly twice as much as an LP. Because of its size, the CD was also portable. Like a cassette, it could be played in a car or it could be played on a portable device like the Walkman.
The latest technological developments – MP3’s, iPods and so on – have had a similar impact on how rock and roll is made and on how it is experienced.