Earliest Known Voice Recording Discovered in France

Jason Dearen in San Francisco
Associated Press
March 28, 2008

At first listen, the grainy high-pitched warble doesn't sound like much, but scientists say the French recording from 1860 is the oldest known recorded human voice.

The 10-second clip of a woman singing "Au Clair de la Lune," taken from a so-called phonautogram, was recently discovered by audio historian David Giovannoni.

The recording predates Thomas Edison's "Mary Had a Little Lamb"—previously credited as the oldest recorded voice—by 17 years.

(See a picture of Thomas Edison with an early phonograph.)

The tune was captured using a phonautograph, a device created by Parisian inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville that created visual recordings of sound waves.

Using a needle that moved in response to sound, the phonautograph etched sound waves into paper coated with soot from an oil lamp.

Clues to Discovery

Giovannoni and his research partner, Patrick Feaster, began looking for phonautograms last year and in December discovered two of Scott's—from 1857 and 1859—in France's patent office.

Using high-resolution optical scanning equipment, Giovannoni collected images of the phonautograms that he brought back to the United States.

"What Scott was trying to do in 1861 was establish that he was the first to arrive at this idea," Giovannoni said.

"He was depositing with the French Academy examples of his work."

"We took those images back to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and found that [Scott's] technique wasn't very developed," Giovannoni said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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