The First Recorded Sound

The invention of recorded audio has long been thought to be one of the best of many contributions to modern science made by Thomas Edison. Recently though, it’s been discovered that French inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville actually beat Edison to this breakthrough by about seventeen years. Amazingly, this invention came about by accident.

Edouard was interested in sound, and he created a device called a phonautograph, which was designed to use smoke to mark a sheet of paper with visual representations of the patterns of sound waves. The device was never intended to be used for playback, but when modern day researchers investigated Edouard’s studies, they found that playback of the imprints on the paper was indeed possible. In 2008, they managed to play the recording back on a computer.

What you see below is an authentic file of the very first audio recording. It was recorded on April 9, 1960–149 years ago. The voice on the recording is unknown. Some say it’s a woman. Some say it’s the inventor himself. What’s known is that the voice is singing the words “Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit.” Click the file and listen. I promise it’s not a jump video or some sort of prank.

People will have different responses to the recording. Some are uneasy just at the sound of it. It’s shaky, almost ghostly sounding. What’s most amazing about it is the historical context. This sound was recorded before Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States and before the American Civil War. It was recorded two years before the invention of skiing and five years before the first publication on genetics. It was just shortly before the German revolutions in the Ottomon and the coming of the Victorian Era. We don’t know who the singer on this recording was, but we know that they saw an amazing chapter in history. The 1860s were arguably one of the most turbulent and eventful decades in human history, and here at the onset, we have this sweet voice to give us an ear into the past.

“Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit…”

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