Friday, March 28, 2008
Seventeen years before Thomas Edison patented his phonograph, there was the phonoautograph. Invented by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, the phonautograph "etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp."
The French inventor's device was not intended to playback sound like Edison's phonograph, but it is now known to be the world's first recording of sound. To get around the playback problem, scientists in Berkeley, California, made high-resolution scans of the paper and used a "digital stylus" to decipher the grooves etched by the phonautograph, which revealed a short 10-second rendition of the folk song "Au Clair de la Lune" sung by a female voice.
Previously, it was thought that Edison's recording of "Mary had a little lamb" was the earliest recording, and instead of soot, the phonograph used a wax cylinder to record sounds.
The scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, who recovered the sounds from the phonautograms, are part of a group called First Sounds, which seeks to "make mankind's earliest sound recordings available to all people for all time."
You can download and listen to an MP3 of the phonautograph recording of "Au Clair de la Lune" here.