Abing and the Webster Chicago Wire Recorder
When I was researching the life of Yang Yinliu 杨荫浏 at the Music Research Institute in Beijing almost a decade ago, I was always excited to see what I could dig up from the reference library and sound recording archive. Yang was among the first musicologists to experiment with recording musicians in their natural environment and many of his recordings made in the 1950s are held in the archive.
It was Stephen Jones who drew my attention to the Webster Chicago wire recorder used by Yang and Cao Anhe 曹安和 in their fieldwork recordings in Wuxi in the summer of 1950 and the six ‘legendary’ recordings of Abing 阿炳, three each for pipa and erhu, respectively.
Two of these recorders used by Yang Yinliu and Cao Anhe are housed in the Chinese Traditional Music Sound Archive at the Music Research Institute in Beijing. According to Wang Yusang, an audio engineer who works in the sound archive, two Webster recorders were brought back from Hong Kong by composer Li Huanzhi 李焕之 in 1949. I was able to view the two reels used to record the six works of Abing in 1950 from a computer screen in the archive. Wang also told me that more recordings could have been made, but the team of musicologists ran out of wire.
Micic, Peter, 'Gathering a Nation's Music: A Life of Yang Yinliu' in Lives in Chinese Music (Helen Rees, ed), University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 91-116, 2009.