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Title:A History of Theatre Sound Effects Devices to 1927
Author(s):Culver, Max Keith
Department / Program:Theatre
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:Sound effects increased in number and sophistication throughout all theatre periods; devices to produce them became more complicated which posed a need for greater control through central operation. This study traces the practices and developments in mechanical sound effects devices used in American and European theatres from ancient times through the successful introduction of electronic sound control in 1927. Chapter I begins with ancient bronteion thunder and culminates in Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg's unique devices and practices which served as models throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Chapter II presents the developments which occurred betwen 1800 and 1927, and Chapter III singles out those devices required by new styles of production which emerged around 1900. Authentic drawings, photographs, and descriptions illustrate how these developments occurred and the factors which caused them.
Changes in theatre architecture and rising production costs required new sound effects and new devices. Those devices which depended on the resonance of small wooden theatres became less effective in larger metal-and-concrete ones. Large theatres also required louder sound effects, larger devices, and more employees. Salaries and other costs gradually increased so that theatres sought central systems to produce and control the required sound effects at less cost.
Electric motors were affixed to some old hand-crank machines, new devices were designed specifically for electrical operation, while others were powered by compressed air. Electrical operation, especially, permitted major strides toward a central sound effects system. Even before successful electronic sound control, some theatres produced all weather sounds by electricity; however, these machines did not provide complete control of volume, tone quality, and timing.
Sounds first contributed to realistic stage effects by indicating locale, occupations, and offstage actions. However, as playwrights explored new styles of production, especially nonrealistic or symbolistic plays, sounds created mood, served as symbols, and performed as characters in some plays. They also contributed to spectacles about which entire "sensation dramas" were written. These new functions presented a need for central systems to provide greater accuracy and control. Ingenious devices produced complex realistic sounds and represented new machines from everyday life, including trains, airplanes, and automobiles. Some provided a degree of control, but productions often required them to be scattered about the stage which called for numerous trained operators.
Gramophones contributed some new control capabilities to British performances as early as 1906; however, they rarely produced sufficient volume. By 1927, phonographs combined electronic amplification from radio with gramophones to inaugurate modern electronic control of stage sounds. However, total control of stage sound was not achieved immediately, and many technicians believe that such complete control is not yet available. The emergence of these sound technicians who have found a continuous practice in live theatre has created a new specialist in the modern theatre, the Sound Designer, who has become accepted as a vital and indispensable member of the creative staff.
Due to their unique features and accuracy, a few sound effects machines still perform regularly along with modern electronic systems. This thesis reviews the origin of these mechanical devices and traces their development and continuous use until the successful introduction of electronic sound in 1927.
Issue Date:1981
Description:253 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1981.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8127574
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-14
Date Deposited:1981

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