Whenever you read about the history of popular music, things tend to start around the 30s with Bing Crosby or Louie Armstrong. That's all fine and dandy, but there were around 35 years of the recording industry before that time. Hard to believe but from the late 1800s to the middle of the 1920s there was an entire recording industry built around recording without any electricity. This is the ultimate analog recording experience, and we haven't gone that far at Silent Stereo. For now we're still with magnetic tape.
But the acoustic era was a fascinating time and it's something that is totally forgotten by modern audiences. How many people today ever talk about Billy Murray (not the guy from Ghostbusters), Ada Jones, Vess L. Ossman, or Arthur Collins? These artists are never cited as influences or mentioned in the "Top 100 Artists of the Century". Granted their styles are pretty far removed from modern music. It's the same as a modern actress being influenced by Lillian Gish. Gish's style is too drastically different to fit into the modern artform. Also, a lot of the records are not PC with lots of racist and ethnic humor. But we can't turn a blind eye or ear to our history; and it's interesting to hear how much things have changed in 100 years.
Like silents, acoustic recordings are a great window into the past to see what the public enjoyed. Also, the musicianship is impressive. No edits, no overdubs; just get the orchestra in the room and go for it.
Here's some great places to check out acoustic recordings:
http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/AP - Antique Phonograph Music Show (also check out Thomas Edison's Attic show). This is the show that got me interested in acoustic recording. A great variety of material- comedy bits, vocal numbers, and I've even heard some old exercise recordings.
http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/index.php - UCSB just put an archive of cylinder recordings online. After you find some artists you like on the Antique Phonograph show, look them up here for more recordings.
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