I. The History of Sound in the Cinema

This is one of a series of posts I’d like to keep writing about. To begin, I want to share this amazing article by Dion Hanson of Dolby Laboratories.

Bellow, I provide links to clips of films mentioned in the article.

I hope you enjoy it!

The History of Sound in the Cinema

Don Juan (1926): first sound film with the Vitaphone system — sound on disc, in which optical soundtrack would be re-recorded on disc for theater release.

The Jazz Singer (1928): sound film using the same system, but with major impact on the audience.

Fantasia (1940): Disney’s film using “Fantasound” sound system that consisted on 3 tracks and a 4th one that acted as a gain control.

The Robe (1953): first filmed launched under the CinemaScope system which included 4 channels of magnetic sound, one of which served to place the sound around the auditorium.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954): first movie released under the Perspecta Sound System, that took a mono track and fed it to sub audible switching tones then routed to the left, center and right channels or all 3 simultaneously.

Oklahoma (1955): first release with the format Todd-AO: 5 mm of the film had 6 sound tracks, 5 of them were behind the screen, the 6th was used for surround or it had encoded the Prospecta System to feed a left, center and right surround channel.

Tommy (1975): with a similar layout of the CinemaScope but with 3 tracks; channels 1 and 3 were encoded to provide a front and back left and a front and back right, track 2 was the center channel.

Lisztomania (1975): the first Dolby Stereo film! The matrix described above was the heart of this new system that permitted 4 channels to be recorded to 2 on the film and then decoded back again to 4 at the replay in cinema.

Tora Tora Tora (1970), Earthquake (1974), Rollercoaster (1977): these films had scenes with low rumbling frequencies required to shake the cinema…(literally!) there was a trigger to a low frequency signal generator which was super amplified and reproduced in big sub bass speaker cabinets. The system was called Sensurround, from Paramount, and it was never used again.

Dick Tracy (1990): released with CDS (Cinema Digital Sound); the speaker’s placement is that of the Dolby’s for 70 mm: L, C, R, LS, RS and LFE. It removed the analog optical sound track replacing it with a digital one.

Jurassic Park (1993): The DTS’ system placed the sound on a separated CD-ROM (instead of on the film) synchronized with the picture via a timecode on the film.

Last Action Hero (1993): another digital system, by SONY, that putted back the digital data on the film, comprising 2 extra channels (inner left and inner right).

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