The development of sound movies in 1927 was only the tip of the iceberg; new recording technologies and techniques emerged after that and new ones are emerging today at an ever-quickening pace.
As pointed out on the previous page, this increase in the pace of change is all for the better, as it gave us the merger of sound with film, which is perhaps the most momentous development in art history. For the first time, sound movies gave us the power to immerse an audience in a multimedia experience; only since then has it been possible to combine images and sound in such as way as to imitate life and transport people to other worlds...or is this really the case?
Surprisingly, scholarly research has established that the feat of integrating sound and moving images in story-telling may have been accomplished long before the Jazz Singer. This possibility was originally reported in a telecast by naturalist David Attenborough in 1960 and has been rebroadcast in episode four, Once Upon a Time, of a 2005 BBC television production hosted by Dr. Nigel Spivey called How Art Made the World, a made-for-television video series shown on PBS.
In a recent interview for How Art Made the World, which was recorded for the 2005 production, Attenborough recounted his 1960 experiences with aboriginal nighttime ceremonies that integrate sound, imagery, and dance. He states:
The images that most Aboriginal artists paint today are the same images that were painted on rock walls thousands of years ago. The Barramundi fish, Yingarna, the Earth Mother, the Rainbow Serpent [see pictures, below]—these are paintings that each tell a unique story. However, the Aboriginal artist doesn't paint a sequence of images as if outlining the plot of a story. Instead, they use single stylized images to trigger in the mind of the onlooker stories they already know. But the use of a single image is only one part of their storytelling secret. These artists also use music, song and dance to envelop their audience in a full multimedia experience designed to stimulate not only the eyes, but the ears as well. This soundtrack, then, is what has given Aboriginal stories the power to survive for thousands of years."
Attenborough goes on to say about his 1960 experience,
"...I was invited to attend a secret storytelling ceremony that centered around a single image painting, with accompanying music made by singing, click sticks, and didgeridoo.""...you have to recognize that they [the paintings] are only a part. They don't exist by themselves. ...So the music is an integral element from all kinds of points of view and to abstract that from a piece of painting is to impoverish the painting."
"The use of a single image was only one part of the Aborigine storytelling secret. These artists also use music, song and dance to transport themselves to the imaginary world of their "movie."
Attenborough uses the four pictures below to illustrate his conclusion that Aborigine "movie" story telling hasn't changed much throughout the millennia. Here's how:
The pair of pictures at the top in the figures pictured below represent the Barrimundi fish on both the left and right sides. The bottom pair on the left and right represent the Aborigine earth mother, Yingarna.
The two still pictures in the column on the left below are modern paintings drawn by a living Aborigine artist from Arnhem Land in northern Australia near Darwin. The two pictures in the column on the right below are petroglyphs from rock walls in the same region which were painted thousands of years ago. The fact that the two pairs haven't changed much over the millennia suggests that Aborigines have been telling the same stories based on still pictures in basically the same way since time immemorial.
But stories about the Barramundi fish and Yingarna each figure prominently in contemporary Aborigine "movies," as well. The fact that these ancient still pictures still illustrate the same Aborigine stories and ideas in pictures as they did in ancient times supports the notion that contemporary Aborigine movies about them haven't changed over the millennia either. This similarity makes it reasonable to conclude that contemporary Aborigine "movies" haven't changed much since ancient times either.
Attenborough further speculates about the nature of these ancient stories told in Aborigine "movies." What makes them so compelling that they have lasted through the ages? He concludes that it's their fusion of music, song, moving imagery, and the dance, just as it is in modern movies seen on television and in moving picture theaters.
To more fully appreciate the aesthetic basis for this speculation, it helps to explore the Aborigine concept of the Dreamtime.
The Aborigine Dreamtime is a sacred era in which ancestral totemic spirit beings created our world. Aborigines believe that real and imaginary creatures like those shown above are literally alive in the Dreamtime world, another world that exists contemporaneously with this one. Additionally, they believe that creatures like these are transported to our world from the Dreamtime world when Aborigines dream, in their visions, or in ceremonies such as the ones Attenborough describes.
The fanciful and visionary brain processes Aborigines undergo during dreams, visions, and ceremonies are not appreciably different from those experienced by modern movie audiences when they undergo a "willing suspension of disbelief" while watching movies projected on theater screens. As they watch, they forget for a while that they are immersed in an imagined world; only when a movie finishes do they recall that their experience was actually a screen projection.
By contrast, the Aborigine believes that the creatures and scenes acted out in a ceremony are real and that the totems whose stories they tell actually are present during a ceremony. His ceremonies, too, are a kind of willing suspension of disbelief.
Since Aboriginal "movies" exercise brain processes not unlike those experienced by modern movie audiences, and since Aboriginal "movies" have been extant for tens of thousands of years, Attenborough contends that multimedia performances like these have a special power, whether ancient or modern. They tell stories in ways that can evoke fanciful and visionary reactions that are naturally inherent in mankind and that can move mankind deeply.
Albeit primitive, in their own way Aboriginal "movies" and media are as much aesthetic recording media as are modern movies.
Since actual contemporary Aborigine ceremonies are religious events, they are not open to the public, so authentic videos of living "movies" are generally unavailable. However, Aborigines practice and perfect their "movie" rituals just as a Western choir would practice a hymn before a church service, and these rehearsal sessions, which often take place in public spaces, are not restricted. And some Aborigines willingly demonstrate their dancing skills for cultural transfer purposes, social or personal pride, or pay.
Here's a movie clip of Aboriginals dancing by firelight in an open field at night in Borroloola, Australia. It's not a religious ceremony and it's certainly not ancient, but it illustrates what traditional ancient Aborigine movies must have been like.
The dancers in this video are performing the Airplane Dance, an original modern day Aboriginal "movie" about an actual Second World War event in which an American bomber performed an emergency landing near their village and a crew member was rescued by locals. Notice how the music, singing, and dancing heighten the dramatic intensity of the story that's being told, just as they do in modern movies. These Aboriginal dances demonstrate that music, singing, and dancing are perennial motion picture artistic media—means of aesthetic communication—originating as far back as ancient religious rituals.
Believe it or not, the hats worn by some of the dancers in the video play the role of theatrical properties; they represent the crashed airplane's fuselage, and the pair of sticks that extend from either side are its wings. The two white objects on each wing represent engines, making a total of four. It must have been a big bomber! Notice that a "wing tip" on one of the hats is broken. The dancers' waving arms and the cords in their hands that are attached to the hats allow the dancers to simulate the airplane's waving wings. The bushes attached to the feet of some dancers may represent the jungle foliage over which the plane flew before it landed.
Accompanied by adults, the youngsters in the group are learning to dance and sing a story to the rhythm of clicking sticks. Today's Aborigines recognize the importance of training their youth in the old ways in order to keep their ancient traditions alive.
Here's another version of the Airplane Dance performed by a different group of Borroloola dancers. Contrasts between the two performances are revealing. Notice the women dancer's chorus in the background.
Recording innovations may have been slow to come in the past, but today they are coming at a vastly increasing pace.
As we shall see throughout these pages about recording, we now live in a golden age. The Internet, on which Electricka and the other modern muses depend for their existence, is in effect a massive recording and playback system. It could only have happened after mankind turned a gigantic technological corner in the 19th century.
The story of art could not be written without also telling the story of recording. The modern Muses—creatures of the Internet—owe their very existence to man's ability to make recordings—to recording. And, just as with its predecessor recording technologies, the Internet is contributing to the advancement of the arts at a great pace and in new and different ways.
Modern motion pictures are a prime story-telling medium today, just as they were in the distant past. We see them in our homes, on television, in theaters, in offices, and in schools, almost everywhere we turn.
Our friends, the Australian Aborigines, don't have a lock on telling stories or on recording them by visual means—by dancing, acting, or other kinds of performance; far from it. Today, all civilizations share activities like these with the ancients; sometimes almost to a fault.
Want to compare how Australian Aborigines make movies with how we make movies today? Want to know more about modern movies and how they're acted, told, and shown? Then you may want to explore The Muse Of Film.
How did nineteenth and twentieth century advances in recording technology lead to the development of modern recording technologies such as photography, silent films, sound movies, color motion pictures, 3-D pictures and sound, animation, and many of the technologies we take for granted today?
NOTE: Because the feature you are now exploring covers the entirety of recording history, a portion of the feature you're at includes this feature titled The Advent Of Motion Pictures—The Moving Magic Lantern. If you explore the feature titled About The History Of Recordings And Recording, you'll cover both.
The account of the history of recordings and recording is a concise
historic record of the nexus between recordings, recording, and playback.
Its scope spans many periods, media, and facets of recording and the recording industry, from technology to science to engineering; from scientists and technologists to businessmen; from research and scientific institutions to corporations to commercial outlets; and from to performers and performances to venues and the public.
Recording media and technologies in all the arts are affected by and affect every other art. Since these facets of recording are so tightly interwoven, knowledge of the interactions among them is beneficial for an understanding how and why people involved in recording have behaved and how events in the field of recording have unfolded. This account promotes these kinds of understandings.
You may have seen other histories on these subjects, but this history may be different: The Account is organized in a condensed table format, not in a wordy narrative format. This arrangement of data and text makes it possible to rapidly and easily search for, find, and review information about people, companies, agencies, events, activities, inventions, products, technologies, sciences, dates, and other important facts that played and are still playing a key role in recording history.
Aboriginal "movies" probably began with dance, but we have no idea by whom they were invented, or how, why, or when. Modern movies have quite a different kind of history. We know a lot about them because their beginnings are well documented.
Want to explore how modern movies began—who invented them, how, and why? Want to know things about the film industry such as why it took over thirty years to add sound to movies after silent movies were invented.
—Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—
This web site and its contents are copyrighted by Decision Consulting Incorporated (DCI). All rights reserved.
You may reproduce this page for your personal use or for non-commercial distribution. All copies must include this copyright statement.
—Additional copyright and trademark notices—
Exploring the Arts Foundation
Today's Special Feature
To Do More