Something for the Weekend, Sir? This was a contradictory week for the music industry. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
On Wednesday, I attended the unveiling of an IEEE Milestone plaque to commemorate the invention of stereo recording in 1931 by the prodigious scientist-engineer Alan Dower Blumlein. The event was hosted by Abbey Road Studios, where in 1934 Blumlein demonstrated his invention by recording the London Philharmonic Orchestra in stereo within a single groove on a gramophone disc.
This was just one of the 128 patents earned by Blumlein before his untimely death in a plane crash at the age of 38. His life’s work revolutionised everything from audio to telephony to transatlantic cables to television to radar. This devilishly handsome young man with the brain the size of a planet knew how to look comfortable in a three-piece suit, sported round spectacles, puffed a pipe, had a playful sense of humour and spoke like Harry Enfield’s Mr Greyson.
Blumlein is the electrical engineer’s ideal image of untortured genius: he was the boffin’s boffin.
His lack of fame among the general public can be attributed to several factors, not least that he died young while working on top-secret inventions during World War II and, let’s face it, having a German surname and Jewish ancestry. Also, home stereo systems only began to take off in the mid-1960s, more than 30 years after he invented it and more than 20 years after his death.
In addition to inventing stereo recording, Blumlein’s disc-cutting machines, microphones and other studio equipment were far and away superior to anything that had been devised before. In effect, he invented the notion of high-fidelity for music lovers.
And how are today’s leading hi-fi recording artists faring? Well, look no further than Tidal.