Forgotton Sound Pioneer

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Donald Binks

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Forgotton Sound Pioneer

PostFri Mar 31, 2017 4:40 pm

There is a news report today that could shatter pre-conceived notions that the first successful sound films were made in America and exhibited in the early 1920's.

In 1929 Raymond Cottam Allsop founded a company called "Raycophone" in Australia, which manufactured cinema sound equipment, but it was his brother, Percy Mattoc Allsop who 25 years previously had demonstrated an ability to combine film with sound in perfect synchronisation. He called the process "Persync" and it involved using a specially coated 35 millimetre film running through another camera alongside that recording the visuals. This second camera called "The Persyncator" first used an acoustic trumpet in order to record the actors' voices. It did so by the vibrations of the sound causing a needle to move down the film as it passed through the gate. The grooves thus formed were similar to those of a gramophone record only they were in a straight line embedded in the thick emulsion coating the film and running the length of it. This camera was linked to the visual camera by means of gears which caused the two to operate in synchronisation.

The benefit of the system was that the film recording the sound did not require any developing and could simply be placed straight away on to a projector which had been especially adapted to take the extra reel.

Allsop encountered two main problems with his system. The first was that the acoustic recording method was cumbersome and did not produce sound that was capable of being heard adequately in large auditoria. The second was that in order to produce copies of the sound film, he had to play the original and have it recorded by acoustic horn on to the duplicate. This meant that the duplicates were inferior and even less audible than the original.

After the Great War, in early 1919, Percy Allsop took a trip to the U.K. where he met up with Marconi who was at that time perfecting his radio transmissions and also experimenting with electronic circuitry. He arrived back in Australia later that year armed with a plethora of knowledge gleaned from his association and set to work refining his process.

In late 1920 he exhibited his new apparatus to Amalgamated Wireless whom he thought may be interested in backing him. His new system heralded a development far ahead of his time. The microphone he now used on the film set was actually a radio microphone and sent a signal directly to the sound camera where it was picked up and amplified before a needle etched the sound waves into a groove on the film. The new process also enabled him to make duplicate sound films in a far easier manner with the sound becoming more distinct in the resultant copies.

At first Amalgamated Wireless were quite keen on the idea but their major worry was the reproduction of the sound in theatres. They were well aware of previous attempts to marry sound with gramophone records and apart from synchonisation problems, there was the huge problem of making the sound audible enough for the entire audience to hear it succinctly.

Allsop had solved this problem too by hooking up the sound projector to a radio transmitter and beaming the sound to wireless sets strategically placed around the theatre and tuned to the same frequency as the transmissions emanating from the sound projector.

It all worked brilliantly and although there was a great deal of interest, there was also a great deal of pressure on having the new invention suppressed. Besides, the cost of installing the system in the large theatre chains would be enormous and without some support from the major film companies supplying the product, it would be unaffordable. Needless to say, the major film companies saw no reason to shift from the silent product.

From late 1920 to early 1923, Allsop continued working with his idea and exhibited it to anyone who showed a modicum of interest but by early 1924, without any money coming in, he had to give up his work. He ended up as a cinema projectionist.
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Donald Binks

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Brooksie

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Re: Forgotton Sound Pioneer

PostFri Mar 31, 2017 6:22 pm

This academic paper gives a thorough outline of Ray Allsop's achievements, and those of other sound technicians who developed Australian-made sound equipment in the late 20s and early 30s. It's a fascinating story that deserves to be better known.

Arguably even more significant was Arthur Carrington Smith's development of Cinesound sound-on-film recording technology. That he and a few other engineers tinkering in a small, underfunded lab in suburban Sydney managed to develop a system rivalling the quality of Western Electric and RCA, and sufficiently different in method as to not infringe on the patents of those larger companies, remains as astounding today as it did in 1930.

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