Stefan Kudelski: Inventor of the revolutionary Nagra tape recorder

Truffaut, Godard and Chabrol all credited him with making possible their working style

Stefan Kudelski, inventor of the first portable professional sound recorder, single-handed transformed the world of sound recording for radio, television and, most importantly, the film industry. His device allowed directors to throw off the shackles of studio-based filming, enabling them to film in an off-the-cuff improvisational style and to film anywhere and in any environment they chose. He won four Oscars and two Emmys.

By the early 1960s Nagras were standard in all three industries until the 1990s, when digital audio recorders came on to the market. The company now produces digital recorders, though competition from the Far East means they no longer dominate.

According to Chris Newman, a four-time Academy Award-winning sound engineer, "There was virtually no film made from 1961 until the early 1990s that did not use the Nagra."

Kudelski's first device, a reel-to-reel portable tape recorder called the Nagra I, created in 1951 while he was still a student, captured the imagination of Swiss radio stations before spreading farther afield. However, it was the recorder's third incarnation, the Nagra III, which set him on the road to revolutionising Hollywood as well as the British and French film industries.

Before the Nagra, film sets required sound recording devices that took several people to carry and manoeuvre them and usually had to be transported by truck. Coinciding with the portability and reduction in camera sizes, the introduction of the Nagra, weighing between 3.5-9 kilos depending on accessories, suddenly gave directors a new freedom from the conventions and high cost of studio production.

The Nagra became an essential tool for the on-location, often improvisational techniques of the young French New Wave directors of the late 1950s and early '60s, such as François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol, as well as US documentarians like DA Pennebaker, who used the Nagra to record Bob Dylan's 1965 tour featured in Don't Look Back. Pennebaker, Godard and Truffaut all credited Kudelski with helping to make possible the informality and journalistic realism of their work.

The Kudelski Group went on to make covert recording and surveillance devices for a number of government agencies, including the East German Stasi and the CIA. In 1967, Nagra entered the military market. The first pocket-size miniature recorders, the SN Serie Noire, were originally ordered by President Kennedy for the American secret services.

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1929, Stefan Kudelski completed his primary education before the family fled following the outbreak of the Second World War. Fleeing via Hungry and France, the family settled in Switzerland in 1943.

In 1948 Kudelski entered the Polytechnique de l'Université de Lausanne, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, graduating in electrical Engineering. By 1951 he had established an engineering design company and patented his first portable recording device, the Nagra I, (meaning "will record" in Polish); the size of a shoe box, the device was light, self-contained, portable and high quality.

Leaving university in 1952, Kudelski worked hard on improvements and later that year Radio Lausanne and Radio Geneva placed orders to purchase the Nagra I. By May, following the first international sound recording contest, some reporters became interested in the device with Radio Luxembourg ordering several.

In 1953, Kudelski started making their own parts for the upcoming Nagra II, as using third parties had caused delays, and defective and sub-standard parts. The new device was a success and the company expanded. In 1958, the Nagra III was launched. The solid-state machine, was fully transistorised and could synchronise sound with the film frames. Orders flooded in, including Italian broadcaster RAI for the 1960 Rome Olympics, US broadcasters ABC, NBC and CBS, and the BBC. A passionate sailor and aviator, Kudelski founded "Air Nagra" in the 1960s, flying businessmen from Nagra and other local companies around the world. It was dissolved in the mid-1970s.

Kudelski received Oscars for his technical contributions to film-making in 1965, 1977, 1978, and 1990. He received many other awards, including, the John Grierson International Gold Medal (1983) – joining luminaries of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers that include Louis Lumière, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Samuel Warner, Leon Gaumont and Ray Dolby.

Stefan Kudelski, inventor and engineer; born Warsaw 27 February 1929; married Ewa (died 2000; five children); died Cheseaux-sur-Lausanne, Switzerland 26 January 2013.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

News
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London