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Friday, November 12, 2010

First Recorded Sounds

Stumbled across this intriguing website yesterday, about the work of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a French inventor, who in 1857 received a patent for the phonautograph - twenty years before Edison invented the phonograph.  And now, by means of 21st century wizardry, de Martinville's primitive sound tracings on blackened paper enable us to hear the human voice - not very clearly, but recognizably human - out of the long-silent past.

Last year, however, Giovannoni and crew realized that they had been playing the recording too fast; on their website, they offer a revised version which sounds more like a man's voice, probably the inventor's own.  Listen to it and more sounds re-created from de Martinville's phonoautograms here

Unfortunately, de Martinville was merely looking for a way to make a graphic representation of the human voice, with perhaps a view to creating a kind of automatic stenography one day; apparently, it didn't occur to him to pursue sound reproduction, which had to wait until Edison had a stroke of genius in 1877.  Here's a short overview of the phonograph's origin, an invention that amazed the world - a talking machine! 

Edison phonograph, circa 1899

Read more about the Edison phonograph and listen to sample recordings at the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress.

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