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Monday, September 27, 2010

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The Oldest Human Voice Recording

"The oldest recording of the human voice - made 17 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph - has been discovered and played back by audio researchers.
The 10-second recording is of a person singing a snippet of a French folk song, 'Au clair de la lune', and was recorded on April 9, 1860 by Parisian inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, the historians say.
Scott de Martinville used a gadget he called a "phonautograph" that 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.
"It's like a ghost singing to you," he says. "It's like discovering the world's oldest photograph and learning that the photograph was taken 17 years before the invention of the camera."
Giovannoni says he learned of the recording's existence on 1 March in an archive at the French Academy of Sciences in Paris.
He and colleagues transformed took very high-resolution digital scans of the marks recorded on paper.
Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California then converted these scans into sound using technology developed to preserve and create access to a wide variety of early recordings.
Scott de Martinville's recording was made nearly 148 years ago, a whole 17 years before Thomas Edison made his historic message, 'Mary had a little lamb', on a phonograph, which is the landmark event in the history of recorded sound.
But unlike Edison, whose great achievement was to not only record but also play back the recording, Scott de Martinville was never able to hear what was traced on the smoked paper.
Edison's breakthrough, in 1877, was based on tinfoil wrapped around a cylinder. The foil was indented by a stylus which moved in response to vibrations from a mouthpiece.
In fact, Giovannoni says Scott de Martinville's phonautograph recordings were never intended to be played.
"What Scott [de Martinville] was trying to do was to write down some sort of image of the sound so that he could study it visually. That was his only intent," says Giovannoni.
He says there were several people, including Alexander Graham Bell, who tried to capture a visual representation of sound before Edison invented the idea of playing it back." Click here to listen the recording.

Article source: (copyright AFP/Reuters). All rights reserved to the author(s) in the specified source. 

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