A group of researchers has succeeded in playing the world's oldest sound recording of a human voice made in 1860 – 17 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Roughly ten seconds in length, the recording is of a person singing “Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit” – a snippet from a French folksong. It was made on April 9, 1860 by Parisian inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on his “phonautograph” – a device that scratched sound waves onto a sheet of paper blackened by the smoke of an oil lamp. Scott never dreamed of playing back his recordings. But this morning, the dream Scott never had will come true. A cadre of audio historians, recording engineers, and scientists working in conjunction with the First Sounds initiative has transformed Scott’s smoked-paper tracings into sound. They will premiere Au Clair de la Lune today at the annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections at Stanford University. You can access the recording as an mp3 file now at http://www.firstsounds.org/sounds/. Examples of sounds evoked from French and American phon-autograph recordings made between 1857 and 1878 will also be played publicly for the first time. First Sounds historians Patrick Feaster and David Giovannoni began their search for surviving phonautograph recordings, or phonautograms, in the fall of 2007. In October they studied 19 examples held by the Edison National Historic Site, made in 1878 by Edison and his associates to study the noise of the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad in Manhattan. In December they identified two specimens at the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (the French patent office), which Léon Scott deposited with his patent applications of 1857 and 1859. And in February they con-firmed the survival of nearly a dozen phonautograms deposited by Scott at the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France. These include Scott’s first experiments from 1853 or 1854, as well as his most technically-accomplished recordings from 1860...
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Tags - firstsounds.org, Berkeley Lab, ARSC, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, Au Clair de la Lune