A sound story
An iconic sound eqiupment manufacturer has its tale told in loving detail.
YOU would expect a book about Bang & Olufsen ( B& O) to be radical in its presentation and not follow the convention. You would even expect it to be shaped ... not like a book. After all, the Danish company that was founded in 1925 in Struer is a design icon of legendary proportions that is also accomplished in the field of consumer audio. Big and unwieldy has rarely been part of the B& O resume! Which, however, this book is....
The author, Alastair Philip Wiper, is a British photographer and writer based in Copenhagen whose specialities are science, industry and architecture. Ostensibly, he possesses a fascination for all things B& O because nothing else explains the painstaking effort that went into the making of this book.
This substantial coffee- table tome lays bare in detail the philosophy, people and products that made B& O, with insights on the evolution of the company’s design approach. B& O products are meant to evoke an emotional response in the user – the company was far ahead of the design curve even as far back as the 1950s.
Think B& O and you conjure up images of products from some science fiction movie: sleek and sexy machines, whose forms were as functional as they were futuristic. In fact, B& O designs still are a step ahead of those from many other audio equipment manufacturers.
B& O’s founders recognised the need for their products to connect emotionally with the user long before Apple did. This philosophy, and the dogma that design must always have a purpose, typifies the Scandinavian thought process. Think Ikea.
Why this book?
Wiper says it is a “culmination of my experiences exploring the ins, outs, ups, downs, fronts and behinds of an eccentric and visionary company that has taken design and technology to unparalleled heights.” He pitched the idea to the company about three years ago, and B& O was sold on it, granting him a large degree of freedom to delve into its workings and the evolution of its landmark designs.
Through his lens ( with some assistance from the B& O in- house museum) and words, we’re given an insight on how some iconic products evolved from the drawing board to mock- ups, and the prototypes that explored various possibilities to the full production model.
The attention to design detail is a B& O trademark, whether it was the humble Beolit 39 radio back in 1938 ( the company’s first foray away from wood and into Bakelite material) or today’s flagship Beolab 90 speakers, or numerous other products through the decades, down to the humble but essential remote control handset.
There’s a story recounted here of Sony founder Akio Morita visiting the B& O stand at a World Exhibition in Seville, back in 1992, and picking up the BeoLink 1000 remote control. Asked if he needed help using it, Morita replied, “Thank you, but I have one at home.”
It wasn’t just in the area of audio/ video equipment that B& O made its presence felt – the company also turned out microphones, electric shavers, respirators and even a bottle opener in its early decades.
Wiper also dedicates space to the company’s designers, the most iconic of them being Jacob Jensen and David Lewis from the 1960s and 1970s ( both of whom are since no more). He also makes it clear how much of a “national institution” B& O is for Denmark, and how two or three generations of the same families became employees of the company.
To give an example of employee loyalty: there’s a portrait wall in the canteen in one of the factories that features all B& O staff that have worked there for at least 25 years. There are some 1,200- plus of them, the first being company cofounder Peter Bang. Svend Olufsen died before he reached that landmark, sadly.
Wiperp delves deeplyp y into the work that goes behind the brand – the people, the factories, the labs – and it might all seem too academic to the general reader. Fortunately, the sheer volume of stunning photos makes this book easier to browse through ... and that’s exactly what most readers will do.
Detailed reading will appeal only to the diehard B& O follower and those writing a thesis on this Danish legend. And historians specialising in the audio industry.
As someone who has visited the B& O facilities, I can testify that Wiper does indeed capture the essence of the company here. No mean feat.
is available online through Amazon. com, Book Depository, Waterstones, and Foyles and specialist retailers.
The Beolit 39 the first Bang & Olufsen radio to be m Bakelite instead of wood, allowing it to be any s — Photos:
The famous bottle opener from 1937. It has been produced in greater numbers than any other B& O product – and also stolen more than any other!