Reviewed by Johan Palme on 15th December, 2015
The fantastic thing about recording technology is that it allows us to travel in time. Like no other invention, a record and a record player is able to exactly reproduce the sensory experience of a previous generation. Listening to a 1920 recording, we’re hearing exactly the same sound waves as someone who listened to that recording in 1920. It’s a medium born with and dependant on the age of mechanical reproduction, and if we experience it differently it will be because of our different cultural filters, not be because it’s physically something different.
Of course, this technological time journey stops abruptly in the late 19th century. No Christmas records from before 1898 survive, and those that do from before 1920 – while fabulous – are of very low fidelity. Using old instruments, there have certainly been revival attempts that try to go back even futher, but those are always going to be filtered through the interpretation of whoever is playing.
But there is another option, that allows us to hear exactly, in perfect fidelity, what someone in the 19th century would have heard. Throughout the century, self-playing mechanical instruments were a major thing, as a way to bring convenient musical enjoyment into the (affluent) home. Music boxes, sometimes the size of fridges, with bells and deep bass, were produced in mass numbers before the Gramophone eventually displaced them in the living rooms.
This album is a fantastic collection of the finest music box Christmas music. Recorded in warmth, depth and exactitude by the amazing Columbia records engineers in the early sixties, with hand-picked Music boxes from world-renowned expert Rita Ford, it’s a fascinating look into the values of the past. But it’s also an amazing christmas record; tingly, creaky, cozy music box sounds that play the most intricate and beautiful polyphonic melodies. Truly enduring Christmas spirit.