Before Edison: Eduard Leon Scott de Martinville

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I absolutely could not wait to grab a copy of possibly the first ever recording of a human voice made in 1860 in France by Eduard Leon Scott de Martinville, inventor of the “Phonautograph” and pre-dating Mr. Edison by about twenty years.

From the NYT article: (you can download the mp3 from here)

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

 

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From Wikipedia:

The earliest known invention of a phonographic recording device was the phonautograph, invented by Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville and patented on March 25, 1857. It could transcribe sound to a visible medium, but had no means to play back the sound after it was recorded. The device consisted of a horn or barrel that focused sound waves onto a membrane to which a hog’s bristle was attached, causing the bristle to move and enabling it to inscribe the sound onto a visual medium. Initially, the phonautograph made recordings onto a lamp-blackened glass plate. A later version (see image) used a medium of lamp-blackened paper on a drum or cylinder. Another version would draw a line representing the sound wave on a roll of paper. The phonautograph was a laboratory curiosity for the study of acoustics. It was used to determine the frequency of a given musical pitch and to study sound and speech; it was not widely understood until after the development of the phonograph that the waveform recorded by the phonautograph was in fact a recording of the sound wave that needed only a playback mechanism to reproduce the sound.

For a fantastic examination of the phonautograph check out talkingmachine.org

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