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Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Au Clair de la Lune" and other early recordings (1860) recorded by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville

This is the first sound ever recorded, by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a French printer and bookseller who lived in Paris. He invented the earliest known sound recording device, the "phonautograph", which was patented on 25 March 1857, as French patent #17,897/31,470.
In 1860, before Edison's wax cylinder experiments. Ironically, the "phonautograph" was designed only to record sounds, not to play them back.
In 2008, American audio historians played back phonautograph recordings as sound for the first time. The team accessed Leon Scott's phonautograph papers, which were stored in France's patent office and the Académie des Sciences. They then optically scanned the etched paper recordings into a computer program developed a few years earlier for the Library of Congress. The sound waves on the paper were then translated by the computer into audible sounds. One recording, created on April 9, 1860, was revealed to be a 10-second recording (of low fidelity but recognizable) of the French folk song "Au Clair de la Lune". While it was initially believed to be the voice of a woman or adolescent, further research in 2009 suggested the playback speed had been too high and that it was actually the voice of Scott himself.
The "phonautograph" scratched sound waves onto a sheet of paper blackened by the smoke of an oil lamp,
"It's magic," says David Giovannoni of First Sounds, a group of audio historians, recording engineers, sound archivists, scientists, others dedicated to preserving humankind's earliest sound recordings.A phonautogram containing the opening lines of Torquato Tasso's pastoral drama Aminta has also been found. Recorded around 1860, probably after April 9, this phonautogram is the earliest known recording of spoken human speech to be played back, predating Frank Lambert's 1878 recording of a talking clock and the Edison Company's 1888 phonographic recording of a Händel concert. Earlier recordings, made in 1857, also contain Scott's voice, but are unrecognizable because of the irregularity of speed.

Scott in his own words:

Opening lines from Tasso's Aminta (undated, probably April-May 1860)

Vole, Petite Abeille
- Fly, Little Bee (undated, probably September 1860)
Au Clair de la Lune - By the Light of the Moon
(April 9, 1860)
Gamme de la Voix - Vocal Scale (May 17, 1860)

Diapason at 435 Hz--at sequential stages of restoration (1859 Phonautogram)

You can listen to Scott's above mentioned early recordings here:

References: and and

For more on the
"phonautograph" and to listen to the slowed down audio recording of "Au Clair de la Lune"check:

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