New Vistas in Radio





Is there any difference between listening to music directly and by radio? I have tried to meet this question in two ways: first, personally and subjectively, as one who has devoted all his life from childhood to making music and trying to understand its true inner nature; and, secondly, objectively, impersonally, trying to find the facts as registered, not by ear, but by instruments of precision.

When we listen to music directly the factors involved are complex, but they can be grouped into three classes: (1) the sound source — singer, violinist, orchestra; (2) the conveying medium, the air between the sound source and our ears; (3) the receiving medium — our ears, which receive the music or vibrations and pass them to those centres in our brain which transform them into states of being and feeling.

Now what happens when we listen to broadcast music? Obviously (1) the sound source and (3) the receiving medium remain the same. But (2) the conveying medium is only similar in the space between the loud speaker and our ears. Before that is reached many new factors enter. Again these factors are complex, but they can be classed in three groups: —

(A) Pick-up. This includes the varying characters and patterns of the sound waves created by the instruments or voices in an empty or full hall, or in a small or large studio, modified by the kind of reflecting or absorbent surfaces formed by the walls, ceiling, floors, and whatever persons or objects there are in the enclosed air-volume. Other variants are the type of microphone used, its degree of responsiveness to various zones of the total audible frequency range, the number of microphones, and the relation in space of all the instruments and voices to each other and to all the microphones in operation.

(B) Transmission. This is a very complex process that presents problems for which no one as yet has a complete answer. But one element — amplification — can be understood by every music lover. It resembles in some ways the enlarging of a photograph. If we were to take a negative, and enlarge some parts slightly, other parts to twice their original size, others to four times the size, the result would be a distortion, interesting perhaps to those who enjoy the fantastic, but not a true reproduction of the original picture on a larger scale. In the transmission of music, amplification is necessary, but if the amplification is greater in some zones of the whole frequency range involved, certain tones or groups of tones sound relatively louder than others, the harmonies become unbalanced, certain individual notes in a melody stand out suddenly in too great relief, important harmonics or overtones are too weak or too strong, the tone-color or timbre of the instruments or voices is changed and degraded, and the whole tonal mass is thrown into a chaotic state of distortion. The result becomes a caricature, and discriminating music lovers will prefer not to hear in a degraded form music they know and love; and those who hear the music for the first time can have no conception of its true beauty, or of the inspired message it conveys.

Copyright 1934, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

To keep the picture simple I have spoken here only of the distortion brought into music by amplifiers; this is only one of the elements that can distort in broadcasting.

(C) Receiving equipment. For perfect reception we should need a loud speaker that would respond with equal sensitivity from about 30 to 13,000 cycles per second. All the receiving sets that do not have such a speaker cannot help distorting the music.

Frequency Range

Adequate transmission of music must meet three requirements: it must faithfully transmit (1) the complete frequency range; (2) the complete intensity range; and (3) with the true auditory perspective.

The fundamental principles of radio are a mystery that we may never fully understand. The greater the scientist, the more clearly he realizes and the more frankly he tells us how little he knows. As we learn, we become more aware of our ignorance. But radio process can be outlined in simple terms. If you talk over the radio the sound of your voice is picked up by a microphone, transformed into electrical energy, amplified, carried by wire to a transmitter, sent out into space as radio frequencies, — or Hertzian waves, — picked up by receiving equipment, transformed into electrical energy, amplified, sent out by the loud speaker as sound or audio-frequencies reproducing your voice. Briefly stated, this is the general process for the transmission of sound whether of speech or music. In a parallel sense, but on another plane, we know the circuit that music follows — from inspiration, through transmission (composer and interpreter) and reception (music lover), back to inspiration. The important question is the degree of faithfulness with which symphonic and operatic music can be delivered in our homes, and the message conveyed in its full value.

At present these types of music come from the radio in incomplete and changed form. The scientific explanation can be simply stated. The character or quality of tone in music is mainly due to harmonics or overtones. At present, many of these cannot be and are not transmitted and received by radio. The result is that such sounds as the muted trumpet or the oboe cannot be transmitted and received faithfully, and therefore frequently come to us in changed or distorted form.

Harmonics or overtones are most easily explained by an example: If you sing a note you probably hear only that single note, which musicians call the fundamental. Above that, however, is also sounding the octave, usually less loud. And above the octave is sounding another soft tone five notes higher. And another, four notes higher still. And another three notes higher still. And so on. These are the overtones or harmonics and they have simple ratios of vibrations or frequencies or cycles to the fundamental tone. To every single vibration of the fundamental tone the first overtone has two vibrations, the second overtone three vibrations, the third overtone four vibrations, and so on. The relative loudness of the harmonics to each other and to the fundamental is the cause of the quality or timbre or tone-color of a tone. For example, if the high harmonics are louder than the low harmonics and the fundamental, the tone-color produced will be thin and piercing and reedy, like the oboe or muted trumpet or the gamba or reeds of an organ. But if the low harmonics and the fundamental are louder than the high harmonics, the resulting tone will be round and full, like a flute, or a horn played softly in the middle register, or the diapason of an organ.

The adequate transmission of the harmonics in operatic and orchestral music includes frequencies or vibrations as rapid as 13,000 per second. By frequency is meant roughly what musicians call ‘ pitch’ — whether a tone or group of tones is high or low or in the middle register. For example, if you sit at the piano, the notes immediately in front of you or in the centre of the keyboard are in the middle register, those to your right hand in the high register, those to your left hand in the low register. In much the same way, the engineer and physicist speaks of high, middle, and low frequencies or periodicities or cycles. He measures them in time so that the ‘ A ’ to which the violinist tunes his instrument has 440 cycles per second. These frequencies can be thought of as alternate condensation and rarefaction of air — as a series of pressures. For the purpose of this writing, differences of frequency or pitch can be thought of as the contrasting sounds of the high tones of a flute or violin, as examples of high frequency, the mellow sounds of a cello or the lower sounds of a contralto voice, as examples of middle frequency, and the deep sounds of an organ pedal or of the double bass, as typical low frequencies.

Instead of the 13,000 frequencies per second which arc necessary for the adequate transmission of orchestral music, radio listeners in most of the homes in this country are hearing, at present, up to about 5000 frequencies or vibrations per second and sometimes fewer. That part of the music which should be conveyed from 5000 to 13,000 frequencies is obviously lost.

The 13,000 frequencies I have mentioned is not a figure set arbitrarily. It results from very close and exact tests, which were made by Dr. Harvey Fletcher, head of the Division of Sound Experimentation of the Bell Telephone Laboratories, and a group of assistants, of which I was one. These tests were made on a mixed group composed of engineers, musicians, amateurs, and others. Our aim was to see up to what periodicity it was essential to be able to transmit sound in order faithfully to broadcast good music for the average ear. We began, of course, with full realization that the response of ears is infinitely varied. It is not too much to say that everyone’s ear response differs at least in some slight degree from that of his neighbor. Some of us hear up to 20,000 frequencies per second. Some up to only 12,000. The average capacity is perhaps about 15,000. Our tests convinced us that, for the average ear, up to at least 13,000 is really necessary, and that fewer than that will not carry orchestral and operatic music with complete faithfulness.

The first step toward making it possible to include the missing vibrations between 5000 and 13,000 is, in my opinion, to widen the channels that were apportioned some years ago by the Radio Commission in Washington. At present these channels are so narrow that the full frequency range necessary for the complete and undistorted broadcasting of good music is practically impossible. Of all the available frequencies for such forms of communication as wireless telegraphy and telephony, distress and other shipping signals, and the radio we know for the sending out of music, lectures, speeches, and so forth, only a part is allotted to the radio we use — and this must be subdivided so as to give each of the transmission stations of this part of the world a channel that will not interfere with adjacent transmitters. There has been a great demand for these channels, and in order to supply this demand the channels have been made narrow. These narrow channels do not permit the necessary frequency range of about 30 to 13,000 cycles per second, but up to only about 5000.

The first and the fundamental need is for Washington to revise its allotment of channels so that they can be broader.

The second step is for transmission stations to send out music with an equal response from about 30 to 13,000 frequencies per second. The more progressive transmission stations are eager to do this. In thus enlarging the frequency range of transmission of music no harm will be done to the broadcasting of the voice. On the contrary, brilliant voices need high harmonics for complete transmission of singing, and even speaking voices need high harmonics for sibilants. Enlarging the frequency range need not interfere with short-wave transmission which gives us a wider radius of effective reception. Short wave and wider frequency range are two different subjects — not necessarily interfering with each other.

The third step is for the makers of receiving sets to design sets that can receive and give out to the listener with an equal sensitivity of response from about 30 to 13,000 cycles per second. Some of the makers of receiving sets are only waiting for Washington to enlarge the channels before they too enlarge the receiving range of their sets.

These three steps will involve temporary practical difficulties. I am told that, from a commercial point of view, these difficulties are not to be disposed of lightly, but that the farsighted manufacturer will see that a satisfied and expanding radio public is his real objective and is the permanent security of his own commercial interests. From the standpoint of a musician and radio enthusiast, it seems to me that if music can be broadcast more faithfully by employing the latest scientific discoveries, and if the net result of employing these is not only raising the quality of musical sound but also increasing the number of eager and appreciative listeners from coast to coast, then the changes necessary, and the discarding and replacing of a considerable amount of present equipment, can only be regarded as a secondary consideration. In any case, radio equipment is wearing out and being replaced all the time, with the situation as it now is.

There are also certain technical difficulties, for which there may be more than one solution. In offering my own suggestions as to how these problems can be dealt with, I have well in mind that there is more than one way of doing most things. The ideas I am presenting here will, I hope, invite the attention of physicists, radio engineers, and the public to the problem of what music needs, and invite consideration not only of my own proposals, but of alternative proposals which experts in various fields have made or may make.

One way of widening the channels might be to zone the country and to apportion wider channels in such a way that the same channel could be used for a number of zones, so spaced out that they would not overlap and interfere. This would mean fewer channels, wider channels, and intelligent organization of the whole country for radio. All this is possible. Each zone using the same wide channel could broadcast a different programme at the same time. Or some or all of the zones using the same channel could broadcast the same programmes by wiring the stations together. But this wiring system would have to be of high quality. Ordinary telephone wiring systems adequate for speech would not be suitable for music. This kind of zoning might mean that transmission stations would have to adjust their power in order to prevent interference between those zones which would be using the same channel. Obviously, there would be, for a time, some inconvenience to the transmission stations in a general requirement to readjust their power. The ultimate result, however, would be a gain to all radio listeners, who would, by this revision or some other plan achieving the same result, be able to hear music and speech in complete and undistorted form.

Intensity Range

What the musician calls loudness and softness, the physicist calls intensity. He measures intensity by units called decibels. Good music needs, in an opera house or concert hall, an intensity range of about 85 decibels. That is to say that, from the softest sounds of an orchestra or operatic ensemble to the utmost sonorities of a great tutti, there is and should be a very wide range or difference.

There arc physical, psychological, and musical reasons for this. Much of the emotional effect on us of music and its dynamic intensity of mood and expression depend on gradual or quick increase of loudness (crescendo) and gradual or quick reduction of loudness (diminuendo). Also sudden accents on one or more notes, or on a chord, or on a melodic outline, either on the top edge, or the lower edge, or somewhere in the middle of the total mass of sound, add at certain moments to the poignancy of the music. Another factor in increasing the eloquence of some kinds of musical expression is the powerful contrast of a great mass of loud harmony followed or preceded by delicate, distant-sounding music.

One of the greatest values of music — its power to evoke in us moods and states of feeling and of being — thus depends greatly upon dynamic contrast and gradation. Of course the potential intensity range of an orchestra or operatic ensemble varies in different concert halls, opera houses, and radio studios. Some of the influencing factors are the texture of reflecting surfaces, the degree of rigidity of the structure to which these surface materials are attached, the size and form of the total air-volume that is vibrating, the rapidity of absorption at various frequency levels, the general reverberation period of the enclosed space, and so forth. For example, the Centre Theatre in Radio City gives — to one conducting in it — the impression of an almost limitless intensity range. Some other halls have so narrow a potential range that music in them sounds monotonous and relatively colorless. Every orchestra varies in intensity range, and even the same orchestra varies with different conductors, for psychological reasons which I am far from fully understanding.

To-day, in broadcasting a symphony orchestra, we are employing an intensity range of about 30 decibels, instead of the 85 decibels that we are using in our concert playing in performing, for instance, music with the immense dynamic range of Wagner. In broadcasting, the 85 decibels have to be compressed to about 30, and this is usually done by the engineer at the controls. The control engineer has certain instruments before him, one of which is like the volume control on your radio set. By turning it one way he gives the music the full intensity that is the result of amplification. By turning it progressively in the opposite direction he gradually attenuates or softens the sound of the music. By reducing the loud moments and by increasing the soft parts he compresses the intensity range so that there will be no overloading by loud music and so that the soft music will be easily audible and not covered by the ‘noise level,’ which is the sum of all the extraneous sound produced by the transmission and receiving equipment, plus audience noise, if an audience is present, as in a concert. This audience noise is often greater than might be imagined. The total sound of several thousand persons turning the pages of the programme book, making other movements, talking or whispering, coughing, the sound of late comers finding their seats, of the opening and closing of doors, is surprisingly high.

The controlling and compressing of the intensity range can also be done by. the conductor, who can make the soft passages louder and the loud passages softer, but this devitalizes the music.

For the reception of operatic and symphonic music in the average home, a dynamic range of 85 decibels would not be necessary, but music needs a much greater variation of loudness and softness than is at present possible.

A uditory Perspective

When we listen to music in the opera house or concert hall the complex mass of sonority enters our two ears from the front, both directly and by reflection, and from the sides and back by reflection only. Our impression is that the major part of what we hear is direct and the lesser part reflected. But the truth is the reverse. The reflected sound in most theatres and halls is very rich and full, and is greater than the directly heard sound. Although we may not be conscious of it, our two ears are hearing slightly different sound-patterns because the reflections from right and left are different in time and in the intensity of all the component parts of the complex sound-mass. Unconsciously we compare these different impressions received from right and left and this comparison gives us the sense of perspective — of a feeling of tonal spaciousness. More of this subject will be included in that part of this writing that deals with ‘wired transmission.’

The microphone is a kind of electric ear. In broadcasting, the microphone picks up the sound which is afterward brought by a complicated process to our ears. But the microphone is a single ear attached to a single circuit or means of carrying the sound to us. To convey music with full and true auditory perspective, we should have, in my opinion, double circuits which could be made to correspond to our method of hearing with two ears and which would give us the tonal spaciousness and beauty of sound that make music so satisfying in a large and well-planned auditorium.

When all the results outlined in (1) Frequency Range, (2) Intensity Range, (3) Auditory Perspective, are brought about, it will be more possible to find the answers to the two great questions of how the cost of radio can best be met and what ought to be the relation of government to radio. First of all we must see clearly what we need from radio socially and technically.

Wired Transmission

Music can be conveyed by the radio we now have in our homes — sometimes called ‘space radio’—or by wired transmission, sometimes called ‘wired radio.’

Space radio has the disadvantages of a compressed frequency range, a compressed dynamic range, fading, and electrical disturbances and static that sometimes ruin reception. Up to this time, physicists have not found a way to protect music that is conveyed by space radio against these extraneous sounds.

Wired transmission, or wired radio, in which the full range of frequencies and the full dynamic range can be transmitted, protects music against fading, static, and disturbances of every kind. With wired transmission, we could all hear, in our homes, in public buildings, in recreation centres, music that would sound exactly as it sounds in the concert hall.

An interesting test of this method of transmission, made on April 27, 1933, shows that it is entirely practicable and that it gives superior results. The test, made by the Philadelphia Orchestra, was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and was given and arranged by the research and engineering forces of the Bell Telephone Laboratories.

This is what was done. The full Philadelphia Orchestra played a symphony concert in Philadelphia. The music was picked up by specially designed microphones and transmitted over underground wires into Constitution Hall in Washington. Here, through power amplifiers controlled by special apparatus, I was able to control, in Washington, music made in Philadelphia and to send it forth to the Washington audience of scientists, musicians, music critics, and music lovers. It is an amazing thing that this possibility has existed now for two years and that no use has been made of it.

Nor is the scope of wired transmission limited to its capacity to convey music to our homes with the same quality that it would have in the concert halls. Wired transmission can so increase the intensity range that it would be possible — in a recreation park, for example — to listen to music with a much greater intensity range than is heard in the concert hall. The dynamic contrasts and accents, the slow building up of the sonority to climaxes, the gradual decrease of tone and fading out can be so enlarged — by wired transmission — that the music acquires greater eloquence, energy, and significance.

Nor is even this the sum of the full possibilities of wired transmission. Through it, by a selective process, it is possible so to enrich certain parts of the tapestry of sound, bringing them out in relief, that the three-dimensional character of music is greatly emphasized. To illustrate certain aspects of this three-dimensional conception: At a certain moment the music may be high and low and deep. In other words, some sounds will be high in pitch, others low in pitch, but another mass of sound may be markedly louder or softer than the first two groups, and so give the impression of being nearer or farther than the first two groups, thus bringing the dimension of depth to the total mass of sound. In some ways this is like certain kinds of painting which have the two dimensions of a flat surface plus the third dimension of depth or relative planes of distance. In painting, this depth is sometimes the result of perspective, sometimes of almost magical subtleties of color relations, as in Cezanne. In music, depth is often achieved through highly sensitive relations of loud and soft planes of sound, as in Debussy. Depth in music can also be suggested through tone character. For example, a melodic line or tone-mass can sound soft yet near, or it can be played or sung so as lo sound soft but far away. Chalyapin is a master of this power to achieve depth by suggestion. He can make his voice soft but intimate and close, like an intense whisper that is either caressing or threatening, as he does in Boris. Or he can make his voice soft and remote as he does at the end of the ‘ Volga Boat Song,’ giving the impression of distant and ruthlessly indifferent desolation. A similar distance of tone can be suggested also by instruments — in the hands of highly sensitive and imaginative players. Naturally the same qualities are required in the listener.

Another type of depth or tonal perspective is achieved when the sound actually comes from right and left, high and lower, far and near — for example, when the violins on one side of an orchestra play an answering phrase to the cellos on the opposite side, or when a near trumpet is answered softly by a distant trumpet, as in Carmen, or as in Tristan, when the English horn plays behind the scenes, or the hunting horns are heard in the distance, becoming increasingly remote and soft. Or again, in an important passage of oboe or muted trumpet, the high sounding harmonics which give the individual character and quality of tone to these two instruments can be increased in intensity during the duration of the solo. Or if the deepest sounds of the contrabass or organ pedal have a significant melodic outline, that part of the frequency range can be so intensified that the fundamental sounds of the melody and of the harmony above it will take on greater power and sonority. Or a middle voice in the orchestral fabric, such as the French horn or the cello, can be brought out into high relief.

In other words, the potentialities of music, with reference to dynamic power and frequency, have reached new heights of plasticity and controlled power, never dreamed of in the past as possible of attainment. Great composers, like Wagner in the Nibelungen Ring, and Bach in such music as the ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,’ undoubtedly dreamed of powerful contrasts of this kind, but were unable to produce them by the limited means available in their lifetime. Yet, — except for the above described demonstration in Washington and in Philadelphia, — nothing has been done to give these new possibilities of sound to the vast music-loving public throughout the country. If a gold mine of great capacity were found, or a subterranean sea of petroleum were discovered, it would be quickly developed. But a means whereby Everyman can hear music with overwhelming beauty and eloquence in any part of our vast country, no matter how remote, is neglected and left unused in a laboratory.

The Vistas Opened Up by Wired Transmission

Our standards of good orchestral tone, of the relations of individual instruments to each other, of groups or choirs of instruments to each other, of solo voices, of voices in chorus, and of all these above-mentioned voices and instruments sounding together, — as, for example, in opera, — have been built up by the memories and experience of the best performances we have heard — best as to singers, instrumentalists, instruments, acoustics, setting. The music lover of each city remembers the most satisfying performances of opera and symphony that he has heard in the opera house and symphony hall of his city, and these constitute for him a norm and standard — the conception of tone that is for him ‘right’ and ‘natural’ and ideal. Other conceptions are for him ‘wrong’ or ‘artificial.’ If in going to the festival in Bayreuth or Munich he has in his memory the sound of voices and orchestra under other acoustical conditions, but now prefers the way they sound at the festival, the former standard of tone is modified and a new conception or norm is established.

I am not sure that these ways of establishing criteria any longer hold. I should like to state the reasons simply, but with a degree of detail. With the new possibilities of sound being opened up to-day by wired transmission and other laboratory experiments, I suspect that there is no longer any unchangeable norm in our minds of good tone and tonal relation. Through constant experience of listening by radio, and laboratory experimentation with electrically produced and reproduced sound and wired transmission of music, our horizons have become so vastly extended that formerly accepted standards and definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ tone have become less dogmatic and more fluid. Or it might be better to say that they are no longer adequate but give a limited and incomplete view of a field which is every year becoming more extended in our consciousness.

It may perhaps be a revolutionary and unwelcome idea to some that the definitions of sound and of tone that have held good for a long period no longer are able to limit the possibilities of music and sound. But there have been gradual or apparently sudden changes of centre like this in other spheres of our life and experience. For example, the changing of theories of the solar system issued the same challenge to men of various ages. Once men believed that our earth was the centre of the universe and that the sun and planets revolved around it; later came a broader view that the earth revolved around the sun; and later a still more extended view of the vastness of space, and a theory that our sun might not be the centre, but only a relatively small part of a vast system of magnetic and orbital relations between masses of matter suspended in space. In the course of years and of moving from one fixed belief to another we have at present come to the point where scientists prefer to rest their conception or interpretation of time and space upon a belief in relativity. Just as the former Euclidian attitude that there are axiomatic truths, not questionable and not in need of proof, is no longer tenable but is replaced by the vast and elastic conception of relativity, so are the theories and standards of tone and tonal relations no longer unchallengeable in the field of music and sound.

What, then, is the ‘natural’ sound of an orchestra? Some years ago there would have been many willing to answer the question in terms quite definite, but the enlarging conception of sound, and new possibilities of controlling and modifying it, inevitably lead us to distrust the certainties of years not long past. The whole sphere of sound has become vastly freer. Those that know this to be true and realize the scientific basis for it become much more open-minded — and much more modest—because they know that they do not know, whereas those who are unwilling to depart from the safe certainties of an earlier era know only the dogmas which naturally grew out of a more limited experience than is now the privilege of the physicist and musician who is in intimate contact with, and has absorbed, the most recent experiments in sound and the broader conceptions and richer knowledge that are the birthright of everyone to-day.

It is not too much to say that wired transmission has opened possibilities that may ultimately revolutionize the whole world of music. Clearly it is for us to see that those possibilities are used not capriciously but with true artistic motivation and discipline, not as an end in themselves but as a means to greater freedom and range in expression.

It used to be that, in making a great crescendo, the possibility of ascending to the mountain height of sonority was limited by the coordination of the mind, the nervous system, the muscles of the hands and lips of the players, and by the power and tonal range of the instruments. Even if the composer or the listener found it possible to dream of higher mountain peaks, he could not achieve them by means within his reach.

The facilities of wired transmission extend these possibilities enormously. Now they are really limited only by the intake of the human ear and by the brain centres to which the ear reports and in which the sensations of sound are received and in some mysterious way changed into emotion, mood, and states of being. When in India, I used to look at Everest and Kinchinjunga in the Himalayas, and it seemed impossible to me that man could ever climb to the highest levels of these masses. Now the airplane has flown up to them and higher still. Wired transmission is the airplane which, in the control of those that know how to use it, could lift millions of listeners to higher peaks of musical experience.

Electrical Production of Tone

We can listen to tone and music from a variety of sources — the human voice, musical instruments, space and wired radio, recorded music either by disk or by film, and electrically produced tone. When we listen to music from our radio set, the tone is produced by voices or instruments and then carried to us by a method we call broadcasting. But it is possible to produce the tone, not by voices or instruments, but by new types of instruments which do not have bows and strings like those of the violin, or tubes of wood or metal like those of the wood-wind and brass instruments, but in which tone is produced by oscillators, which in principle vibrate like a tuning fork, or by sound waves imprinted on film, and by some other principles of which I am not yet at liberty to speak. The Theremin was one of the first of these instruments. All of the various types of these instruments have means to control frequency, intensity, timbre, duration. Of course they are to be played by musicians, just as the violin or piano or any other instrument.

If we wish to think clearly and without prejudice about these new instruments, we should compare them with the instruments of the past to see which are the more mechanical in structure, and, when played by musicians who understand their full possibilities, which are more free and have a greater range of musical expression. Examined without prejudice, all the instruments of the orchestra have important mechanical features. The violins, violas, cellos, double basses, all have bows which must be adjustable and capable of a certain tension, with strings capable of a still greater degree of precision of tension, stretched over a frame that must be light and sensitive to vibration, yet strong enough to remain rigid with the four strings under high tension, and with a bridge, front plate, post, back plate, so perfectly adjusted and in contact that the vibrations, begun by the bow setting the strings into vibratory motion, are conveyed to all parts of the instrument so as to set into vibration the surrounding air. The wood-wind and brass instruments all have bores of various calibres, either cylindrical or conical, and complicated systems of keys which open and close certain apertures or additional lengths of tubing. In brief, they have mechanisms without which they could not function except in a very primitive and limited way.

The electrical instruments also have their mechanical side, but when they have been more fully developed they will have greater range in their powers of playing loud and soft, high and low, legato, staccato, glissando, and greater variety of tone-color. For example, on our present instruments it is difficult to play a really perfect legato because the breath becomes exhausted, or we must change the direction of the bow because of its limited length. There are no limits to the legato of the electrical instrument. All our orchestral instruments are constantly becoming ‘out of tune’ during performance. Many of our wind instruments are never in tune because of their faulty structure. The only limit to playing in tune on some types of electrical instruments is the ear of the player. Others are so constructed that they never need tuning and it is impossible to play out of tune on them. These are of the ‘tempered scale’ type. So that in several ways the electrical instrument is not more mechanical than our present imperfect instruments. Since the development of the electrical instruments is still in a very early stage, they are not to be fairly judged by present performance.

Electrical production of tone may some day revolutionize the manner of composing music. At present there are two processes: (1) The composer indicates by black notes on white paper (a method of musical notation which is unfortunately far too limited) his musical ideas as expressed through rhythm, melody, harmony, counterpoint. (2) The singer, player, or conductor tries to breathe life into these notations by making them vibrate in the air as music. This double process may in the future become a single process, as when an artist paints a picture. Through electrical production of tone, the composer will be able to record directly into sound his musical ideas instead of first writing them on paper. This will not prevent other musicians later from making new interpretations. These musicians will again record directly into sound their own ideas, or their differing conceptions of the ideas already expressed by former composers.

The Character and Quality of Radio Music

If all our equipment and methods were brought up to date and in line with the most highly developed technique and instruments now lying unused in laboratories, the range of our programmes could be broadened. By short wave there would be available to us the best programmes from all the European countries. In addition there could be programmes from Canada, Mexico, and the South American Republics, and occasionally interesting special programmes could be arranged from Africa, Japan, China, India, Java, Bali, offering us the national music of those lands, a music different from ours, but well worth our attention and the intimate study made possible by radio.

For our own United States programmes the field for selection is rich. Some of the varied possibilities are: —

(1) Brief talks by experts on subjects that would interest all of us if clearly focused — in the fields of science, the different arts, and the social questions that intimately concern us all in our daily life.

(2) American folk music, including, on the one hand, the powerful primitive jazz mainly created by our musicians of Negro origin, and, on the other hand, sensuous romantic jazz, folk songs from various parts of our country, such as cowboy songs (there are hundreds of these and they are purely American), songs of the Virginia mountains, songs and dance music of the many tribes of those we so erroneously call Indians. This ‘Indian’ music would be difficult (although not impossible) to pick up because it is an integral part of the religious life of our aboriginal Americans and is sacred to them.

(3) Opera, both ‘light’ and ‘grand.’

(4) Symphonic music — North, Central, and South American and European.

We are in a significantly creative stage in the development of an American musical culture. Musically speaking, we have passed the central point of the depression and are on our way upward. As the country builds itself again into a new social and economic life, there is bound to be — and the process has begun — a new expression of the creative forces of American life in music.

The rhythm of our life is different from that of any other country. In any age and any country, it takes a certain amount of time for the expression of fundamental forces to be released. The process of expression in America is now moving beneath the surface, and through color, form, motion, and sound the ideals and forces of American life are emerging into art forms. Not only are we building up a distinctive American music, but we are also developing distinctively American ways of presenting it. We need to see to it that our methods of presenting music shall accord with our national and cultural needs. We need, for instance, to build our concert halls and opera houses in the spirit of our own era, making them express the rhythm of our own present civilization, rather than reflect the ideas and artistic traditions of other ages and other lands. In our larger cities our concert halls should have greater seating capacity. The cost of tickets could then be less. The halls should be designed by American architects to meet the functional needs of ourselves here and now.

The Listener’s Responsibility

If the radio listener wishes to make the most of his receiving equipment and hear the better type of programmes in a way that will give him or her the best results as recreation or as personal cultural growth, or both, the radio set must be used with understanding. In tuning-in on the wave length desired there is a central point of maximum clarity and truth of reception. On either side of this point is a zone which still gives reception, but in increasingly distorted form as the tuning adjustment departs from the central point of exact tuning. The low frequencies filter out, the balance of the music is destroyed, and new and very untrue tonal relations are brought into the sound picture. I have often been in the house of friends who were listening to a good programme well transmitted, but their tuning adjustment was off centre and they did not seem to be conscious that the whole sonority composition was false and distorted. There are other practices which interfere with hearing music at its best. Although it is common knowledge that there are clear limits to the effective functioning of radio tubes, and that they become exhausted and must be renewed, many enthusiastic radio listeners do not keep their equipment in good condition in this respect.

On every receiving set is a volume control by which the total loudness of the music can be increased or decreased, and a tone control by which the intensity of high frequencies can be increased or decreased. On the better type of receiving sets there is also a third control by which the low frequencies can be increased or decreased in intensity. In other words, a certain zone of the total frequency range is first amplified, and then attenuated, and this attenuation is under control by the listener. It is very important to use the volume control and tone controls in relation to each other and also in relation to the acoustical conditions of the room where the listeners are. There are probably not two rooms in the world with exactly the same acoustical conditions. Some of the factors involved are the total air-volume and form of the enclosed space, the texture of the reflecting or absorbing surfaces, such as walls, floor, ceiling, rugs, hangings, furniture, mirrors, curtains, windows, doors, and so forth, the position of the receiving set in relation to the form and volume of the enclosed airmass and to the listeners. Radio is developing a consciousness of the relations possible between middle, high, and low frequencies in the minds of a vast listening public interested in music, and this one element alone is going to have important musical and cultural effects.

In addition to the great differences of acoustical conditions in our rooms at home where we listen to broadcast music, we all have another varying factor in listening to and in evaluating music — our ears. There are probably no two ears in all the world which hear alike. In other words, every ear has its own degree of sensitivity to various parts of the frequency range. This is probably why two musicians of roughly similar degrees of musical talent and experience will differ sharply in their opinion about concert halls and the way music sounds in them. They hear music differently because their ears, if tested, would show a different response to different types of sound and music. A musician who truly understood all the factors involved — the nature of sound and its mathematical basis, the highly personal and individual response of his own ears, man’s vast ignorance of the psychological elements in music and our reaction to its subtle stimuli — would never make dogmatic ex cathedra statements about any aspect of music because he would be fully conscious that all his reactions are personal and subjective and true only for himself at that time — because our response changes with the unceasing changes that are going on inside us each day and each hour. It is necessary for the music lover and broadcast listener to understand the few simple principles just stated. With these in mind he will know how to adjust the controls of his receiving set. It is to be hoped that all sets will have at least the three controls:—

(1) Volume (general amplification)

(2) High frequency attenuation

(3) Low frequency attenuation

All three are necessary to adjust the tonal relations of music to the acoustical conditions of our individual rooms where we listen.

All the above refers to the mechanical and objective. Still more important are the subjective and psychological ways that the listener has of controlling the value to himself of what he hears by radio. It is useless and a waste of time and energy for an operatic ensemble or a large orchestra to send out the greatest music and for transmission and reception to be improved if the listener, by reason of fatigued ears and nervous system, is not in a condition to receive the message and inspiration of the music. Those who without discrimination leave the radio on all day, so that it becomes a meaningless and valueless background of noise for all their occupations, degrade this wonderful instrument of radio and themselves, so that they fail to benefit by it. On the contrary, they are harmed by it because their mind becomes so fatigued that the ear tunes out automatically. But those who discriminate and listen only to worth-while programmes, both of speech and of music, and take the trouble to be quiet and in a condition to concentrate, will receive the highest pleasure and selfdevelopment and inspiration.

Children and the Radio

In many homes throughout the country children are steadily building up a conception of music and speech on the basis of what they hear on the radio. The majority of small children are very creative musically, especially up to the age of seven or eight. It is important not to blunt the edge of their creative tendency in music by limiting them to so frequent a form of musical intake that all their energies are engaged in attending to what they hear constantly by radio and no time or likelihood is left for the spontaneous creation of rhythm and song that so often goes side by side with their play. Also it is important that they do not receive the impression that the adult-made music they hear from the radio is the only music of value, and so become ashamed of the music they make themselves, a music usually free and original and nearly always so flexible in rhythm and melodic outline that it cannot be written in our limited and incomplete method of musical notation.

It is of national importance to encourage the creative powers in music that most children have naturally and unconsciously. I have often noticed that when young children are playing together in a group or alone they become deeply absorbed in the object of their play and every now and then begin to sing, perhaps unconsciously. Often what they sing has words in a language of their own, invented at the moment; at other times it has words in the language they hear spoken by their parents. Sometimes it is simply melody without words; at other times it is almost pure rhythm — a kind of joyous and energetic outcry. Often the melody is purely spontaneous, not something they have heard or been taught. Sometimes the rhythm they create is associated with what they are doing. At other times the rhythm — although strongly marked — has no obvious connection with what they are doing, but makes a free contrasted rhythmic counterpoint with their play. The main impression I have from watching and listening to little children at these times is that they are unconsciously creating rhythm, melody, and words, and that this creation seems to come from a very deep part of their being.

Fading Out of Musical Creation

I have noticed that at about the age of eight many children begin gradually to lose the musical creative powers that have been theirs from the age of about eighteen months. It would be very valuable to know why this happens. It might be that their being taught nursery songs composed by others, or their hearing music by gramophone or radio, has resulted in giving children the impression that the music they create themselves is of no value, and that they should try to imitate or reproduce the music they hear in some form from adults.

I believe we can hope to retain creative musical power throughout life, because it is done by the Pueblo Indians of Taos, Zuni, and the nomadic Navajo Indians; also by the inhabitants of Java and Bali and other islands of the Pacific; and by the natives of Ukraine and Southeast Poland. Their spontaneous creative songs are often associated with their work, such as grinding corn or sowing seed.

Finding means to preserve the musical power that exists in most children is only part of a greater possibility, to understand and give the best conditions for growth for all the creative powers in ourselves and our children. There is probably a very intimate relation between our physical creative powers as expressed through sex and physical action and our glandular, mental, emotional, and psychic creative powers. They probably form one great unified organism, and the stimulation and growth of one part of our creative powers will probably react beneficially on all the others, and so lead to a rich growth of personality, which in turn will lead to greater personal happiness and greater power of service to others. If these observations have truth, then it becomes an important question of national scope as to how radio may be made to minister to the development of children’s musical life and prevented from conventionalizing and distorting and inhibiting it.

Recreation Centres

As the machine does more of the work that formerly we did by hand we shall all have more leisure. How shall we fill this free time with pleasure and self-development? Some will dissipate. Others will recreate. I have a picture in my mind of great recreation centres where we might all go in our leisure hours and find opportunity for freedom and relaxation, whether in gay sport or in quiet study. These centres would be like large parks, some parts of which would have tall trees and gardens, others flat places for sports, others water for swimming and rowing and sailing. There could be theatres for drama, opera, cinema, variété. Restaurants to suit various tastes and needs. Museums and schools for adults, adolescents, children. Kindergartens and play schools for very young children, with nurses, educators, and psychologists who are sympathotic to children. In one part of the gardens might be a high tower from which at night colored light, would be diffused, which in time would create a new art of color in motion and form. From this tower music of several kinds might be sent out over this part of the gardens. Sometimes good jazz for dancing, sometimes gay music of the type of Sousa’s marches, sometimes the highest kind of symphonic music. This music would be sent out at times of the day that would suit the majority. Perhaps every day two periods of jazz for dancing, both open-air and undercover; about three times a week the finest symphony concerts; at other times singers, violinists, pianists of the highest order.

The music could be sent out by wired transmission. The orchestra or other musicians would be in a large hall, so that those who like to see as well as hear music being made could be in this hall instead of in the gardens or covered parts of the gardens. The tower would be so high, and the loudness of the music so adjusted, that thousands could hear it in the gardens, either walking about or sitting. The music would be clear and full but not obtrusive. It could be directed to certain parts of the gardens, but be practically inaudible in others. This could all be done because there is practically no limit, in wired transmission, to the control of loudness, tone-color, and the direction in which the music is sent.

Of course these recreation centres must not be profit-making, but each type of amusement should be as inexpensive as possible, and aim only to make cost and income equal. In other words, these recreation centres should try to supply us with the various kinds of amusement and recreation of mind and body which we all need, and which would give us all our share of the joy and poetry of life.

Radio as Universal Communication of Thought and Feeling

By speech, we can cause to pass from one mind to endless other minds the ideas developed in the realms of science, art, and government.

Radio, if well used, could be one of the greatest methods the world has ever developed for combating ignorance. It could be an instrument for making the peoples of the earth so understand each other at a distance that they would be less likely to lose their balance of mind and allow those passions that lead to international warfare to overwhelm their reason. The human race is evolving into a broader sense of international relation, but the speed of the evolution is bitterly slow. Radio, used to its full technical and scientific capacity, and guided by wise and far-reaching vision, would be a valuable instrument for bringing the world to a new international understanding and technique. In achieving this kind of understanding, I do not, of course, suggest that the transmission of music is the sole medium. The written and spoken word will be immensely powerful in this regard. Although this is not my field, the importance of presenting new concepts of human relations over the radio is clear. And in this whole matter of building up a far-reaching international understanding, music could play a clarifying and inspiring part. By bringing East and West into touch with each other, radio can endlessly stimulate the flow of ideas and the expression of life in art. The truth of this increases our responsibility for giving more good music over the radio, and bringing transmission and reception up to the most recently developed methods known in the laboratories.

In broadcasting, two features are important — programme and technique. The standards for both are set, in the long run, by public taste. If the public steadily and firmly demands a higher average of quality in programmes, and transmitting and reception equipment that is up to date, both will be created. A few isolated individuals cannot bring this about. It is Everyman who must ask and who will receive.