Audio tape of 1860: 17 years before Edison. Listen!

I have devoted a blog a few months ago to the important role of Montreal in the development of the radio on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary. The Marconi, the Berliner and Fessenden have done their research here, some in association with Thomas Edison, presented as the inventor of sound recording.

However, it is a Frenchman, Léon Scott de Martinville, who made an first graphic record of a sound in October 1857. With his phonautograph, Scott wanted to capture the sound as the camera, newly invented, was receiving the image. So he was the first to record his voice and to allow, without his knowledge it is true, for future generations to hear.

Until 2008, everyone thought that the first recording of the human voice was made in 1877 by Thomas Edison. An american team led by the historian of the audio David Giovannoni and scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have managed to discover and revive the first audio recording ever made. They have restored the sound of a graphic transcription on paper of the human voice, directed by Scott in order to discover that what we heard seemed to be the voice of a little girl singing In the moonlight.

A pen installed in the bottom of a cornet acoustic transcribed the voice on a strip of paper attached to a roll. The team Giovanonni has made waves recorded on these strips of paper can be heard. In fact, by correcting the recording speed, they have discovered that this was not the voice of his daughter, but that of Scott himself.

There is a tragedy to this story. Scott de Martinville died shortly after attending the Paris conference, where Edison presented his invention without the U.s. or anyone else gives him credit for having been the first to have made a sound recording. “He was so upset that I believe that this contributed to his death a few days later,” says his great-grand-son Laurent Scott de Martinville.

Scott himself had published a book at the author’s expense to assert the priority of his invention on that of Edison. It took nearly 150 years for the world scientific community finally acknowledge the precedence of his invention on that of Edison.

UNESCO, in 2015, has finally integrated into the international Register of memory of the world, recognizing its rightful place as the true inventor of recorded sound. In 2011, the Library of Congress of the United States had already formally inducted.

Several dozen sound recordings made by Scott de Martinville in 1857 to 1860 have been found by the american researchers. Each clip lasts only a few seconds.

Here are a few examples

  • The sound of reconstructed d’the light of the moon before and after the correction of speed.
  • An excerpt from Phaedrus: “The day is not purer than the bottom of my heart”
  • The song of the bee from the opera La Reine Topaze by Victor Massé.

All these extracts are available on the site First Sounds, as well as documents written by the inventor.

Professor David Giovannoni says that if the phone was the first instrument capable of transmitting voice over long distances, the phonautograph of Scott de Martinville was the first instrument to transmit voice in the future.

Are there other records of Scott that have not yet been found? The team First Sounds the research. Imagine hearing the voice of Napoleon III or Louis-Joseph Papineau.

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