PhD - Croatian Record Industry on National, European and Overseas Markets up to the Mid 1950s (Dora Dunatov)

By 1900, the leading countries, that manifested during the Industrial Revolution, have already passed the baton to the USA. Its unprecedented capacity to assimilate and commercialize technological innovations awed the rest of the world in the following decades. The century witnessed the emergence of a whole range of technological novelties unparalleled in history. From an airplane, through the rocket to the atomic power, it opened up the well of possibilities, for better or for worse. One of the major inventions, whose repercussions gravely influence the music field until this day, was Edison’s phonograph, popularly known as the talking machine. Just a couple of decades after, the market was taken over by Berliner’s gramophone that, instead of wax cylinders, played discs, i.e. the music records. This invention kept advancing for more than half a decade before it saw its eclipse.

It didn’t take long before the rest of the world took advantage of Berliner’s invention. The market was flooded with all sorts of music records, record companies and recorded music. Market growth revolved so fast that it became almost impossible to keep track of the enormous production of fragile shellac music records produced by mid-century. Tainted with the stain of commercialism, record production was not taken seriously by the music scholars for a long time, just up until recently. Today, a broad range of academic disciplines have found music records to be an interesting research subject and a field worth thriving on. Its importance in cultural history has earned the music record a title of significant cultural heritage. Alas, the fragility of music records is forcing current scholars to embrace the literal race with time.

Being one of the scholars who eludes the framings of the discipline, I accepted the challenge and took on the race, employing primarily an ethnomusicological approach reinforced by the knowledge borrowed from other disciplines, mainly history, popular music, and media studies. The research is a part of a larger project conducted at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research in Zagreb. It strives to create a thorough database of Croatian shellac record production, to provide it with a contextual frame and to disseminate the collected knowledge outside of the academic community.

Thus, the main focus of my doctoral research is the Croatian music record production from 1927 to the end of the 1950s. It will be observed through a commercial aspect that is unavoidable when dealing with market-driven industry. I plan on scrutinizing the relationship between record production, dissemination, and reception.

More precisely, the proposed thesis will be analyzing the presence of three succeeding record companies situated in Zagreb – namely, Edison Bell Penkala (est. in 1926), Elektroton (est. in 1938) and Jugoton (est. in 1947) – on the national and international market in the past and the present, and in the media of the time.

The methodological backbone inevitably lies in the physical and digital archive work. It implies collecting the material and contextual information on domestic and foreign ground. This should create a basis for further study that will assess the dynamics of music record production and dissemination based on available facts, particularly regarding Radio Zagreb as record companies’ most important propagator. Later on, grounding its theories on Assmann’s concept of communicative memory, the research will undergo the main analysis of the information collected through extensive interviews with local and foreign collectors, as well as with the people that have had at least some part of their lives marked by music records under study.

The results gained through observation of domestic and broader Yugoslav market should display the modus operandi of a small, localized record companies in different political situations, referring to the three states that existed on the Yugoslav territory by the mid-century. Apart from that, the research should determine the level of their reception among domestic and foreign public. On the other hand, the study of the overseas market would likely focus on the partake that the displaced music took in the multicultural identity construction of peripheral diaspora communities with South Slavic origin in the United States. At last, the biggest contribution to the preservation of numerous shellac records in Croatia was, and still belongs to several important music collectors. Their vast knowledge and unique perception will be of great importance to this research.

Finally, the purpose of the thesis is to offer a reconstruction of the life of Croatian shellac records in the context of commercial importance, media dissemination, and public acceptance during their first four decades, as well as their “afterlife” in the hands of collectors.