I learned today of the passing of Stefan Kudelski, inventor of the Nagra tape recorder. at age 83. For those that don’t immediately recognize the name Nagra, I can assure you that Mr. Kudelski profoundly changed the way we all hear our world. He invented the first high quality, portable reel to reel audio recorder. They were relatively compact, beautifully engineered, and rugged. These machines revolutionized motion picture production, radio and TV news gathering, and even ethnomusicollogy. I will not eulogize Mr. Kudelski here. Others have done a better job than I could hope to.
When I was last regularly involved in filmmaking, the tools of choice for independent producers were often a 16mm Arriflex camera, and a Nagra III. This allowed one to shoot synchronous sound and picture in just about any location. In the early 1960’s equipment like this allowed François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard, to make the films of the French New Wave. In the late 60’s the technology facilitated Film News Gathering, (the precursor to modern Electronic News Gathering; see the excellent film Medium Cool), and Cinéma vérité. The Nagra was a disruptive technology; putting affordable means of production into the hands of independent filmmakers and documentarians.
Affordable is a relative term. A Nagra, even used, was comparable in price to a small car. The cost of a motion picture camera was similar. Then there was the cost of film, tape, etc. “Low budget” production was a costly undertaking.
In contrast, when I outfitted the production of TransGeek Movie, all the kit, (camera, digital audio recorder. lights, stands, tripod, recording media), cost me slightly more than the price of just a used Nagra in 1986.
Now one can argue the relative quality of 1080p video vs. 16mm film, or 24bit 44.1Khz digital audio vs. analog tape; but I think my point stands: The digital production tools we have available today are making it possible for more people than ever to tell there stories.
Thank you Mr. Kudelski.