My earliest recording. This single-sided, 7″ record was made in Singapore by recording engineer Fred Gaisberg and his assistant George Dillnutt, on a lengthy trip through Asia for the Gramophone Company in 1902-1903, where thousands of recordings were made. Specifically, this was recorded in May, 1903. It was the very first time in history a recording company had visited and recorded in these regions. On the same trip, Gaisberg visited and recorded artists in Bangkok, Rangoon, and Japan. The wax masters were shipped to Gramophone’s plant in Hannover, Germany, where they were reproduced, then exported back to Asia.
Gaisberg (1873-1951) is a giant in the history of recorded sound. Not only was he one of the very first “producers” of music on record, he also helped standardize the speed (78, or more precisely, 78.26) at which the music was to be played back. He made the first recordings by tenor Enrico Caruso, in 1902 - one year before he became the first engineer to produce records for emerging Asian markets.
At this early stage in Malaysia, very few people could afford Gramophone discs, much less a player. Those who could afford them included British officers and business owners, those who worked for the British (called “Babas”) as well as local merchants and traders who were particularly well-off. That said, the presence of numerous record companies in the region by 1920 proves the market was widening substantially. As if it even needs to be said, however, comparatively few of these recordings have survived.
If you are interested in the life of Fred Gaisberg, check out this book. If you are interested in the history of recording in Malaysia, check out Tai Sooi Beng’s article “The 78 RPM Industry in Malaya Prior to World War II,” published in Asian Music, Fall/Winter 1996/1997.
Issue Number: 2-12050
Matrix Number: E 1860