Q&A: Simon and Alan Blumlein on their inspirational Father and Grandfather, Alan Dower Blumlein

16th June 2018

Alan Dower Blumlein is certifiably one of the greatest electronic engineers to have existed. Contributing not just to the world of audio but to early telecommunications, the television system adopted by the BBC in 1936 and, during World War II, the development of the crucial H2S Airborne Radar system that significantly impacted on Britain winning the War.

His invention of stereo, which he incredibly patented at just the age of 27, and contributions of outstanding technical significance to the recording field, were rightly honoured last year by The Recording Academy with a posthumous Technical Grammy. The 2017 Technical Grammy was awarded to Alan Dower Blumlein and received by members of the Blumlein family in New York City on July 11th, 2017. 

 

SimonandAlan

 Simon and Alan Blumlein, holding the Technical Grammy on the steps of Abbey Road Studios.

 

Blumlein's historic legacy continues through the recognition of his incredible life and achievements, which has in part been down to the phenomenal work undertaken by the son and grandson of Alan Dower Blumlein. Alan and Simon Blumlein (son and grandson of Alan Dower Blumlein) are exceptionally proud of the legacy Blumlein upholds within the history of sound recording.

And today, as we celebrate Father’s Day, we sat down with namesake Alan Blumlein to reflect on the pivotal role he has played in both his own and his Father's life, and how this has inspired them to continue the legacy.

 

Can you explain Alan Dower Blumlein's role in the history of sound recording?

Starting with work on telephone lines and telephone systems, ADB first became aware of responses to the human ear. It was during visits to the cinema and his frustration at Mono sound systems, that he developed a realistic method of reproducing Stereo (Binaural) sound. His understanding, ability and pure genius led to one of his most famous patents 394.325 filed on December 14th 1931. This patent was all encompassing and detailed the use of microphones, the electronic circuits required to reproduce stereo sound through loudspeakers and the cutting equipment to produce stereo wax master records.

 

How far do you think the invention of stereo sound changed music history and how music was recorded/consumed?

ADB’s invention of Stereo was a major step forward in music recording and reproduction albeit delayed by WWII and the domestic switch from mono systems to stereo systems. ADB’s invention of stereo not only changed the way music was recorded and reproduced but still is the basis for all other recording systems. 76 years after his death recording engineers worldwide use his stereo microphone principles.

 

What are your own personal stories of Alan Dower Blumlein?

Simon’s memories of ADB are limited to the first six years of Simon’s life (ADB unfortunately passed away when Simon was six). Due to WWII, ADB remained in London working on projects at the EMI labs in Hayes. Simon and the rest of the family were sent to Cornwall for safety. However, when Simon was together with Alan, there was a definite focus on engineering principles through playing with Mecano and the working of trains and cranes – The love of trains and cranes has remained with Simon to this day. ADB was also very good at writing to Simon and as much as possible told Simon where he was and what he was doing including sending sketches of anything mechanical. Simon’s last recollection was of ADB teaching him to count in seconds.

 

As a father figure, or a grandfather figure, what lessons did you take away from Alan and his work? How did he impact your own careers / lives?

We both have a very similar interest in electronics and anything technical or mechanical and there is not a day that goes by that we don’t discuss ADB and his life and work. Although we didn’t go into the audio or electronics directly, our desire to make sure that his legacy and genius is remembered is of huge importance to us and our family. Even now, there is still much to be learned about ADB’s work and we can only imagine what he would have gone on to achieve.

 

What would Alan Blumlein think about the work we’re doing with Spatial Audio?

EMI and Abbey Road were obviously of huge importance to ADB and Abbey Road as an important location for him to test audio developments. There is no doubt that ADB would have been impressed by the innovations and pioneering work carried out by the Abbey Road team. The work on spatial audio allowing for an immersive audio experience would impress him. ADB was forward thinking and would have embraced and loved to have been involved with the Abbey Road team and latest innovations.

 

Thank you to both Simon and Alan Blumlein for taking the time to answer these questions.