FirstSounds.ORG

News

New sounds revealed

"Au Clair de la Lune" named the best recording of 2008

The "Lost" Tracing of Lincoln's Voice

Léon Scott in his own words

First four working papers published

FAQ now online

World's earliest recording made available online

First Sounds' research featured in the New York Times (free registration required)

3/27/08: The World’s Oldest Sound Recordings Played For The First Time

 

RSS Feed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home > Sounds > Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's Phonautograms

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's Phonautograms

NEW SOUNDS - RELEASED MAY, 2009

The sound files of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's phonautograms released in 2008 by the First Sounds collaborative were created using Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's virtual stylus technology. Unfortunately, as these phonautograms were not made to be played back, they do not adhere to the most fundamental technical requirements of sound recording; their tracings are "malformed." Because modern audio processing software cannot handle such malformations, these precious phonautograms have remained mute. In the quest to better understand the work of pioneer phonautogram makers, Dr. Patrick Feaster of Indiana University, Bloomington, has devised an alternate approach to playback. Although it must necessarily ignore or misinterpret information contained in malformations, this approach is sufficiently robust to let us hear something from recordings that are otherwise too compromised to process. The following two recordings were played by Dr. Feaster using this approach.

Opening lines from Tasso's Aminta (undated, probably April-May 1860)

Chi crederia che sotto forme umane e sotto queste pastorali spoglie fosse nascosto un Dio? Non mica un–["Who would believe that under human form and under this pastoral garb there would be found a God? Not only a...."]. As of mid-May 2009, this phonautogram of the opening lines of Torquato Tasso's pastoral drama Aminta is the earliest audible record of recognizable human speechat least, recognizable enough to follow if you already know the words. (The April 9, 1860 recording of Au Clair de la Lune appears to be earlier, but it is sung, not spoken.) Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville recorded it for the physicist Henri Victor Regnault, probably in April or May 1860, as a "study of the tonic accent," so he was more interested in capturing the intonation than the words anyway. But there's a mistake in the recorded recitation. "I was wrong," Scott wrote at the bottom: "it should be umane forme." By apologizing for reversing the word order, Scott indirectly identifies himself as the speaker.

Play Opening lines from Tasso's Aminta:

   *NEW*   

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player

 

Vole, Petite Abeille - Fly, Little Bee (undated, probably September 1860)

This is the only phonautogram Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville identified as made with an "amplifying lever," his last known phonautographic design change. It is therefore presumably also his last known phonautogram, dating from late September 1860 or maybe even later. Equally noteworthy is the content: a lively rendition of a song that is as much performance as experiment. When First Sounds first published this recording in May 2009, the selection was unidentified, except that the final syllables seemed to be the same as the inscribed title–"vole, petite abeille," or "fly, little bee." It turns out to be "La Chanson de l'Abeille" from the comic opera La Reine Topaze by Victor Massé, first performed in 1856. Thanks to Peter L. Goodman for his help in the search, as well as to David Lasocki of the William & Gayle Cook Music Library.

Play Vole, Petite Abeille:

   *NEW*   

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player

 

REINTERPRETED SOUNDS - RELEASED MAY, 2009

When we released "Au Clair de la Lune" and "Gamme de la Voix" in 2008, we chose a playback speed that presumed the singer was a woman or an adolescent. Discrepancies in Scott's notes suggested several possible playback speeds (each consistent with one of his inconsistencies) and the singing sounded "right" to us at this speed. But early in 2009, upon hearing "Aminta" in which Scott indirectly identifies himself as the speaker, Dr. Feaster realized that this speed was too fast. When "Au Clair" and "Gamme" are slowed, their singer sounds very much like the speaker in "Aminta." We have adjusted their playback speed in accordance with this reinterpretation. Great performances they're not. But Scott made his recordings to be seen, not heard. He sang purposely into his instrument to reveal the shape of his sounds and the frequency of his notes. In listening to these phonautograms we eavesdrop on scientific experiments wafting imperfectly through briefly-opened windows in time.

Au Clair de la Lune - By the Light of the Moon (April 9, 1860)

Scott recorded the French folksong "Au Clair de la Lune" on April 9, 1860, and deposited the results with the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France in 1861. As with all four 1860 phonautograms on this page, the existence of a tuning-fork calibration trace allows us to compensate for the irregular recording speed of the hand-cranked cylinder. The sheet contains the beginning line of the second verse"Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit"and is the earliest audibly recognizable record of the human voice yet recovered.

The romantic image of a woman singing to us through the veiled curtain of time was at the heart of Scott's allure as we introduced his work in 2008. As we are loathe to let her go, we maintain her two sound files below: the first version as released in March, and a restoration from September that applied more advanced technologies.

Play the original March 2008 release of Au Clair de la Lune:

                

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player

Play the September 2008 restoration of Au Clair de la Lune:

                

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player

The sound of an inventor experimenting with his new apparatus is captivating in its own powerful way. The following interpretation is consistent with all information available to us at this time.

Play Au Clair de la Lune:

   *NEW*   

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player

 

Gamme de la Voix - Vocal Scale (May 17, 1860)

On May 17, 1860five weeks after recording "Au Clair de la Lune"Scott recorded a simple vocal scale. He deposited this phonautogram with "Au Clair" and other samples of his work at the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France in 1861.

In 2008 we presented two restorations of this recording. The first includes crosstalk from his tuning fork that leaked onto the voice track. The second renders the voice without the tuning fork crossover, as Scott intended to record it.

Play Gamme de la Voix with tuning fork crosstalk

                

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player

Play Gamme de la Voix with tuning fork crosstalk removed

                

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player

The following interpretation is consistent with all information available to us at this time. As with its dossier-mate "Au Clair", "Gamme" is more accurately played at a slower speed, indicating its singer to be a man.

   *NEW*   

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player

 

PREVIOUSLY RELEASED SOUNDS

Diapason at 435 Hz--at sequential stages of restoration (1859 Phonautogram)

Scott attached another phonautogram to the "certificate of addition" he deposited with the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle in 1859. We believe it to be a record made by a tuning fork vibrating at 435 Hz, then just adopted as the official French reference pitch. This is the oldest recognizable sound yet reproduced and is presented here at successive stages of restoration.

Play Diapason at 435 Hz

                

Flash player required

The Flash plug-in is required to listen to the audio. Download Flash now.

Get Adobe Flash player