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Hear the world’s worst first sound recording

phonoCANADA.jpgThe world’s earliest sound recording has been successfully played back, nearly 150 years after it was created.

In 1860, roughly two decades before Edison’s phonograph, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville scratched a recording of French folk song Au Claire de la Lune onto paper blackened by smoke using his phonautograph.

Well, it’s supposed to be Au Claire de la Lune and my colleagues insist it sounds like it. To me it sounds like a recording of an owl being played underwater on a particularly cheap pair of speakers. It’s so bad that the newsreader on the BBC’s Today programme couldn’t stop laughing, even though her next item was an obituary.

Make up your own mind: here’s the 1860 recording.

Regardless of the quality, it’s still pretty amazing that the recording could be played back. To do this Patrick Feaster and David Giovannoni, of historians’ group First Sounds, took high resolution scans of the piece of paper and then produce a digital version playable with a virtual stylus (press release). The New York Times has probably the best article on the topic. It’s well worth a read.

Image: a phonautograph / Library and Archives Canada


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    William Nedblake said:

    If you spend any time at all listening to Radio 4, you know that Charlotte Green is a giggler. It’s positively infectious. The time that she read the clipping on the News Quiz about the man on an inflatable lobster rescuing the girl on the inflatable set of teeth from the sea remains etched on my mind, and always makes me laugh aloud when I hear it. It seems oddly fitting that a recording of underwater owl torture from 150 years ago should have much the same impact.

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    K MacKenzie said:

    Considering this was recorded on sooted paper and played from a scan of that paper 148 years later, this recording is of remarkable quality. Thanks for linking to the file itself & the NYT article. Amazing stuff.

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