March 29, 2008

First Recorded Sounds

The first sounds ever recorded by humanity can now be heard on the web, and amazing thing. They have a ghostly quality to them, particularly the very first recording recognizable as that of a human voice. This was made on a sheet of paper coated with soot from an oil lamp by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on April 9, 1860. It reproduces the voice of what sounds like a woman singing a French folk song, Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit.

Thomas Edison wouldn't invent the phonograph for 17 years after this was recorded.

I don't know about you, but I got goosebumps listening to that eerie, scratchy, ethereal sound.

Also available are excerpts of the first human voice ever recorded (1857), though in this case the voice isn't quite as recognizable:

I think this is the very first recording ever made, or at least that has survived in a condition good enough to be restored. However, it doesn't sound much like a voice at all. The person who made the recording appears to have been toying with making recordings at various speeds. This begs the question of whether some even earlier recording exists, since one might expect that someone playing with different speeds would have first recorded at a normal speed.

The recordings have been rescued and digitized by a project called First Sounds, a group created with the purpose to make the oldest recorded sounds available to the public. They give explicit permission for anyone to reproduce the sounds, but if you want to reproduce them on line it is asked that you do not hotlink them from First Sound's website. You may, however, download and host them elsewhere, which is what I've done here. A site called BooMP3 provides free, unlimited hosting of audio files and is quite handy for that purpose.

A couple of other very early recordings are also available at First Sound's websites, but these two were my favorites. I'm glad that someone has gone to the trouble of preserving them.

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