Learn about Life in the 1920s


TALKING MOTION-PICTURES in which the simultaneous timing of action and sound is at all times assured have been announced by the General Electric Company, and a private demonstration was recently given in a New York theater in which two reels of a popular film were displayed with synchronized incidental music and later singers and musicians were simultaneously seen on the screen and heard through a loud-speaker on the stage.

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Several such devices have been given publicity lately; this one, the Washington Star explains, "is regarded as a distinct advance in that not only is there a perfect synchronizing of light and sound, but that the reproduction of the sound is more perfect." The process, said to be the result of several years of experimenting in the General Electric's Schenectady laboratory, means but slight change in standard projectors, and involves only the addition of a sound-reproducing attachment and a loudspeaker suitable for auditorium use. Both the picture and the sound are recorded on the same film. We quote as follows from a press bulletin issued by the company:

"One of the demonstrations has been with music to accompany feature films, the music being by a full concert orchestra. Development of this field requires no change in the technique of making the original film. After the original picture film has been made and titled, the accompanying music is played by a concert orchestra and is recorded on a film. The picture and sound records are then printed on one film in the proper time relation.

"Another type has been the showing of singers and instrumentalists while they are presenting programs. Thus, when an orchestra is shown on the screen, it is possible to follow the playing of each musician, and see his actions on the screen and hear him. Even cymbals—among the most difficult to reproduce faithfully—sound like cymbals. Similar demonstrations have been made with vocal and instrumental soloists, with string and with vocal quartets, and with speakers.

COMBINATION SOUND PICTURE PROJECTOR 1927 "To the casual observer the talking film does not differ from the usual motion-picture positive. It is of standard width, but along the left margin there is a strip a small fraction of an inch wide on which is a series of horizontal light and dark bands and lines, of varying widths and intensities. It is this series of bands and lines which produces the sound. The film is passed through the reproducer at constant speed, and, as these light and dark bands pass rapidly before a tiny slit in an optical system, the amount of light is varied. The ever-changing amount of light is received by a photoelectric cell—the electric eye—which is extremely sensitive to any change in the light striking it. The more light received, the more current it will permit to pass through its circuit. This current is amplified and changed from electrical to audible energy by an amplifier and speaker.

"At this early date it is not possible to define the fields in which this new type of talking motion-pictures will be of use. One of the first, however, will be in supplying a full orchestral accompaniment for pictures. The community picture-house, accustomed to having a piano, or piano and violin, will be able to have the same music as the metropolitan theater.

"Another field is offered by the news reels. Not only will it be possible to show important persons, but they can talk to the audience, and visiting notables can extend their greetings.

"It has not been possible for famed musicians and orchestras to appear in small communities. The talking motion-pictures will permit them to be both seen and heard throughout the country.

"Educationally, there are also many ways in which the new apparatus will be of service. Many schools and colleges are already equipped with motion-picture projectors as an aid in classroom work, and the new film will be found of even more assistance. In the case of professors from abroad, it will be possible to record their lectures and demonstrations simultaneously, and to give their lectures the widest possible use by circulation of the film to colleges and universities throughout the country. Similarly, an authority on the subject can give a description to accompany any educational film for use in schools, the speech pointing out the important features of the picture simultaneously with their appearance on the screen.

"These are but a few of the fields in which the talking motion-pictures will find applications. The list can, and will, be expanded."

In the new apparatus, we are told, both the picture and sound records are on the same standard motion-picture film, and a standard motion-picture projector, with an attachment for the sound reproducer, is used. Since the picture and sound records are printed side by side on the film, the two are properly timed; it is not possible for the picture to break and the sound to continue, or for the sound to stop and the picture to continue. To quote further:

"There are three principal elements in the apparatus, including a standard motion-picture camera, a sound recorder and a standard motion-picture projector with a sound-reproducing attachment, all driven by synchronous motors. The pictures themselves are made in the usual way on standard film.

"In recording the sounds, a microphone or sound collector of any desired type is employed, together with amplifiers. The microphonic system actuates a tiny vibrating mirror which records the sound on the film as light and dark bands, the light from a small incandescent lamp being reflected by the mirror through a tiny slit in the optical system in front of the film. The higher the pitch of note, the higher its frequency—and the greater the frequency of vibrations of the mirror which faithfully reproduces each sound vibration as a mark on the film.

"The sound record can be made in different ways. Both the picture and sound can be simultaneously recorded on the same film by mounting the two recording elements as a unit, with the sound recorder uppermost. The two recorders can also be mounted separately and the sound and picture film negatives made as individual units, such an arrangement being preferable when the pictures are being made in studios and when the camera is being shifted constantly. Again, as in the case of accompanying music, the picture film can be entirely finished and titled, the record of the music then being made on a separate film and the two combined on the finished positive.

"The sound-reproducing attachment connected to the standard motion-picture projector consists of a photoelectric cell behind the film and a small electric lamp with suitable optical arrangement in front of the film. As the film passes a small slit, similar to the one used in making the sound record, a varying amount of light is admitted to the photoelectric cell, the amount of light depending on the photographic density on the sound track. The result is that a very minute and varying current, an exact replica of the sound wave, is produced. This tiny current is amplified and led to a loud-speaker which reproduces the sound in sufficient volume to fill the auditorium. Any suitable loud-speaker may be employed. The one for large auditoriums which has been used in the demonstrations has been a Hewlett loud-speaker, chosen because of its ability to give the necessary volume and because of the quality of tone reproduction of which the device is capable."

David Sarnoff, Vice-President of the Radio Corporation of America, which cooperated in the New York demonstration, says that "it is now practicable to photograph the President of the United States, voice as well as action, and to distribute quickly films reproducing the event in all parts of the country." The new process may have its first national use in the 1928 presidential campaign, it is suggested in the New York Evening Post. Leading candidates can debate in many theaters and halls at the same time, and "while the candidate is shown on the screen gesticulating in speech, the speech itself will come from a loud-speaker." One newspaper remarks that "if these ingenious contrivances can be made cheap and simple, all movies will eventually carry their own accompaniment either of music or actual dialog, and the 'silent drama' will be silent no more." But before the talking movie becomes a feature of the picture-theaters, Mr. Sarnoff suggests, the motion-picture actors must be taught how to speak—"at present no one would want to listen to the sort of speech they use."

Source: The Literary Digest for March 5, 1927


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