Discover the Sounds of a Collection of 78 rpm Records Hidden in Ueno Forest

Located in Ueno Park, the Tokyo University of the Arts is home to a collection of some of the world's rarest 78 rpm records. Tatsuya Ariyama, an art director and record collector, visited his former school to feel the vibrations of the air trapped in the grooves of a phonograph record from 100 years ago.

By Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture

Tokyo University of the Arts campusUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

78s are invaluable for historical research into how music was played

In 1877, Edison's invention gave birth to the world's first sound recorder, and until the 1940s, the most common records were 78s, also known as standard play (SP) records. A icon of Ueno Park, the Tokyo University of the Arts focuses on researching the inheritance and development of art and culture. One of the studies being carried out in the field of music is of the way that styles of playing differ depending on the era and the musician. 78s let you experience performances from back in the day, making them a valuable resource.

Tokyo University of the Arts LibraryUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The Tokyo University of the Arts Library. The collection of 78s is stored in the basement. 

Art director and graphic designer Tatsuya AriyamaUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A collection that captured the heart of a record collector

Tatsuya Ariyama is an art director and graphic designer who graduated from the university, and it was thanks to an editorial piece featured in the university's PR magazine, Ueru, that he learned about the collection of rare 78s which had been donated. The Christopher N. Nozawa SP Record Collection was presented to the university in 2013, and this extensive collection includes more than 20,000 78s, along with phonographs and other music-related documents. Being a record collector who enjoys listening to vintage music on a daily basis, Ariyama found his interest piqued by the existence of this collection.

Professor Kinya Ohsumi and Tatsuya AriyamaUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Visiting Professor Osumi, who knows more about the donation and the rarity of the records

At the time of the donation, the director of the University Library was Professor Kinya Osumi from the Faculty of Music, Department of Musicology. Ariyama visited him to find out more about the donation. "I was surprised by the enormous size of the collection, and as I investigated, the rarity of the records became clear. Many of the records are classical, and there's a lot of violin in particular. Among them were some pieces which are hard to come by, including one by the genius violinist Josef Hassid, who died young. Well-known pieces like Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto are also a golden resource for researching the way they were played, showing the differences in technique between then and now."

Closed stack library in the libraryUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Visiting the library where the collection is kept

The Nozawa Collection is stored in the library's closed stacks. Granted special access, Ariyama steps into a space where only staff can go. In a corner of the basement, he makes his way through rows of valuable historical materials unique to the university. The sheer quantity of resources that fill the rows of bookshelves is overwhelming. Each album has a note attached detailing the player and the songs, all handwritten by the university staff to help with organization. Ariyama seemed to enjoy the time he spent walking through the aisles, running his eyes over the contents. 

Find SP recordsUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Whenever he spotted a title that caught his interest, he would reach out and take a look inside. 

Storage case for wooden SP recordsUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Crowdfunding for better organization

The university arranged a crowdfunding campaign to help maintain the large Nozawa Collection. Taking place in 2016 and 2017, it quickly reached 5 million yen and, by the end, they had raised more than their original target. The fragile 78s had been stacked in cardboard boxes, and these crowdfunding efforts made it possible to organize them into special storage boxes. In return, they held a phonograph concert for their biggest supporters, as well as a private violin concert by President Kazuki Sawa who is a violinist. 

Paper storage case for SP recordsUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The storage boxes come in a combination of black wooden cases featuring a nameplate for those who made large contributions, and white acid-free paper cases ordered to size.

Broken French "PATHE" recordUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The beauty of 78 rpm records 

Ariyama touches on the physical appeal of records in his book, "The Shape of Sound.” When he found one that caught his eye, he would remove it from the bookshelf and appreciate it carefully. "The French ones are different, as I suspected," he would say to himself after finding one that had a smart label design, taking a photo with his smartphone. Over in the corner was a record that had been broken but still kept as a valuable resource, and taking it in his hands, he studied the grooves.

Sound groove of SP recordUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The way the groove changes can be seen even with the naked eye.

French "PATHE" recordUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

An record from French label Pathé. 

Record of British label "DECCA"Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture

The Nozawa Collection has few vocal works. 

MELODY by violinist Carl FleschUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A thick record to be used with a rare Edison phonograph, which works on vertical vibrations. 

Credenza gramophoneUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The greatest of all phonographs, two Credenzas stand together

The donated Nozawa Collection also included phonographs. One of them is a Credenza, made by American phonograph manufacturer Victor, and said to be the pinnacle of all phonographs. Built in the 1930s, it was repaired after being donated to the university. Used by manually winding the mainspring, it's all based on intuition; it’s impossible to know when the mainspring will run out. In order to hold phonograph concerts more regularly, the university also used the crowdfunding donations to purchase a second Credenza, which was made in 1925. Joining the one from the Nozawa Collection, the two Credenzas  stand side by side. 

Credenza gramophone (whole)Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture

The donated one, standing on the left, is from the 1930s, and the purchased one, on the right, is from the 1920s. Powered by a spring motor, this phonograph requires no electricity. The volume is adjusted by opening and closing the lower door, and when the door is open, the sound is fairly powerful. 

Edison gramophoneUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The Edison phonograph uses vertical vibrations. Phonographs initially had both horizontal and vertical vibration systems, but the horizontal system eventually became mainstream.

Trumpet type gramophoneUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

One made by Nippon Phonograph Co. - now Nippon Colombia - featuring the trumpet-shaped horn typical of a phonograph. 

Credenza gramophone and Mr. AriyamaUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Enjoying the sounds of a historic phonograph

The moment Ariyama has been waiting for - it was time to listen to a selection of records on the Credenza. The records are placed on the turntable one after the other. From “Song of the Flea," sung by Feodor Chaliapin, to “One Fine Day,” an aria by singer Tamaki Miura, who also had a personal connection to the university. "It's very crisp," he commented, while listening to the performances of violinists Josef Hassid and Manuel Quiroga. “It might be an old record and phonograph, but instead of thinking that this is what it used to sound like in the past, I want to try and enjoy it as though it's actual music that exists today."

A lot of antique SP recordsUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

There are also performances by famous violinists from the 19th and 20th centuries, who have left their names in the history of music. The Tokyo University of the Arts has created digital versions of these sound sources to prevent deterioration and allow more people to listen to them. 

Phonograph sound boxUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The round part is called the sound box. This central part converts the vibrations picked up by the needle into sound. 

Mr. Ariyama listening to the recordUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

"The vibrations of the air from decades, or even a hundred years, ago are trapped inside. Both the performances from that time and the recording technology are amazing, aren’t they?"

A collection of some of the world's rarest 78 rpm records(Tokyo University of the Arts)Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture

Credits: Story

Courtesy of Implementation Committee for New Concept "Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture” (Ueno Cultural Park) 

Tatsuya Ariyama
Born 1966 in Saitama Prefecture. After graduating in 1990 from the Tokyo University of the Arts, Department of Design, Ariyama worked at Nakagaki Design Office before establishing Ariyama Design Store in 1993. He designs and directs art with a focus on editorial pieces, and is also in charge of art direction for Ueru, a public relations magazine for the Tokyo University of the Arts. In 2019, Ariyama published a book called “The Shape of Sound,” which captures the records that create sound from a physical product perspective, touching on the appearance of sound. In the same year, he also held a solo exhibition by the same name.

Interview courtesy of the Tokyo University of the Arts

Photos: Yasuyuki Emori
Words: Itoko Suzuki

Shooting & Editing: Daikichi Kawazumi, Tatsuki Wakamiya
Production: Hechikan Co., Ltd.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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