Sound chaser. The invention and impact of the NAGRA recorder

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The video with my talk about the NAGRA recorder is out! “L’invention et l’impact du NAGRA, chasseur de sons” (in French), 8 June 2018, IRCAM, Paris, Seminaires Musique Science Technologie.

Full video: https://medias.ircam.fr/x957613

Sound chaser. The invention and impact of the NAGRA recorder

This research focuses on the invention and impact of the NAGRA recorder. It is based on an extensive research of material and oral sources dedicated to this instrument. The history of the NAGRA recorder development is traced from the 1950s to the 1980s, up to the gradual introduction of digital technology in cinema practices, radio, radio documentaries, investigative journalism, television, music and audio restauration.

Portability, sturdiness, reliability and longevity were the key characteristics that made this instrument a global success. Radio and ethnography were the first domains which benefited of Stefan Kudelski’s invention (e.g. the first expeditions in remote locations, Henry Brandt documentaries, John and Patricia Hitchcock works). But cinema followed immediately after, from the late 1950s, with the works of Jean Rouch who not surprisingly was also an ethnographer. If the Nagra became an essential instrument for the on-location techniques of the French New Wave directors, or American sound engineers as Loren L. Ryder, or documentarians like DA Pennebaker (Bob Dylan’s tours), and later helped the appearance of new professional figures such as Sound Designers (e.g. Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and the New Hollywood), it must be emphasized that not only these professionals promoted its success, they also furthered its development. Kudelski stresses in one of his interviews: “I have a friend. Marcel Cellier, who liked to record discs of ethnographic music and he needed to do this in stereo, so he badgered me enough to have [a] model made for him (Rice-Kudelski 1985). In Italy, RAI national broadcasting company was the first who ordered 100 Nagra III for the 1960 Olympic games and Pier Paolo Pasolini used it during his India tour in 1961.

This study is based on science–technology–society (STS) approaches. It introduces a parallel methodological reflection, considering that the NAGRA is attiring great attention from collectors, who are disseminating sources, such as the incredible site jwsoundgroup.net, developed by American production and sound mixer Jeff Wexler (over 600 pages, 1000 words each). Web sources are problematic, but such blogs and forums are at the same time oral witnesses of the NAGRA technological development, the use professionals made of it and the collaboration with Nagra company for improvements and changes.

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