The importance of 78 rpm discography


With the discovery of the phonograph, the hitherto fleeting impression of each musical performance is imprinted for the first time in the history of music on a material medium, is consolidated and can be repeated countless times. Discography, as well as its implementation as a means of disseminating music, entered in the field of musical experience and entertainment at the beginning of the 20th century. It introduced new data in oral tradition, entertainment and the transfer of musical experience and knowledge from generation to generation, often substituting the presence of musicians, while broadening options and shaping aesthetics. We could perhaps distinguish several analogies with the effects that typography had on the movement of ideas. 

As a means in itself, it has affected and modified human consciousness and society, regardless of the messages it conveys. It has created new ways of thinking and mediated between individual and collective existence, while, through feedback mechanisms, it has functioned as a tool in the formation of thought itself.

The relationship between discography and oral tradition seemed to have already been in favor of the former since the onset of the phonograph. Even though discography usually draws its material from pre-existing collective memory (when it comes to traditional music), the personal characteristics and choices of the performers, through the dispersal of the records, influenced and shaped its evolution and aesthetics while contributing in a decisive way in the creation of a pan-Hellenic repertoire. Melodies and songs returned to where they started, filtered and processed, and, along with other “new-style” tunes, they were diffused and created a secondary oral tradition. Thus, the fact that what professional and amateur musicians and singers had heard and learned from the phonograph records was recorded as “authentic”, “traditional” and “through the people’s mouth” is not an unfamiliar phenomenon. Against that background, 78 rpm discography should not be simply considered as “commercial” but be treated as one of the key components in the formation of musicians and singers, and, in our case, in the composition of the Greek modern music scene, in the evolution of “tradition” and in the transformation of the practices of the 20th century in the music industry.

In addition, each 78 rpm record, despite being a mass-produced product, “carries” its own story which has been indelibly imprinted in the traces of usage of the previous owners who had been entertained by and danced to it. That is why one record can never be the same as another one that contains the same song, even if at first glance they look similar, and this is also one of the reasons why 78 rpm records are indeed “collectible” items, carriers of unique moments of a musical culture of the past, and why, thanks to them, we can communicate with sounds and music that have made history and that would otherwise had forever been forgotten.

Nikos Dionysopoulos