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
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Colin Firth and Emma Stone star together in Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen's 1920s romance

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Life and Style
The findings suggest that some of the genetic factors which influence birth size may play a part in influencing an infant’s mental development
health...while smaller babies have greater schizophrenia risk, study claims
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

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week