Recording Predates Edison Phonograph
NPR, March 27, 2008
Edison wasn't the first person to record sound. A Frenchman named
Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville actually did it earlier.
a device called the phonautograph, and, on April 9, 1860, recorded
someone singing the words, "Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit."
But he never had any intention of playing it back. He just wanted
to study the pattern the sound waves made on a sheet of paper blackened
by the smoke of an oil lamp.
of researchers found some of his old phonautograph papers and used
a computer program to play the recording. They are presenting it publicly
for the first time on Friday at Stanford University.
Scott de Martinville invented the phonautograph in 1857.
National Museum of American History,
Scott's Phonautograph and Phonautograms
of Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville has always been recognized as
a scientific device that was able to capture sound for observation.
But there was never any evidence that his machine could make recordings
that could be played back and actually heard...until now. With the
use of computer technology and with the demonstration of someone (perhaps
Scott's daughter) singing the words "Au clair de la lune, Pierrot
respondit" on a blacked sheet of paper, the history of recorded
sound has been redefined.
goal of visualizing sound that resulted in the creation of his paper
"record" (which he called a phonautogram) should not take
away from Edison's invention of the phonograph. The fact remains that
Edison was the first to record and reproduce sound. The remarkable
recording of Scott's, however, should now be considered the birth
of the record and his machine at the very least recognized as preliminary
work for Edison's Phonograph even though it took nearly 150 years
for Scott's record to "speak".
of "sound writing" on April 9, 1860 has now become one of
the Friends of the Phonograph's Red Letter Days. Friends will
now have the opportunity to blow out candles, eat cake and listen
to recordings at birthday parties for both Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville's
'Au clair de la lune" and Thomas Edison's "Mary had a little
lamb" (December 6, 1877).
dates on your calendar...they are events worth remembering, and celebrating!
Edison's original tin foil Phonograph, 1877 ( Courtesy
of Edison National Historic Site)
here to listen to NPR's "All Things Considered"
for their story
on this event, including a digital rendition of Scott's paper recording.
here to listen to NPR's "Day to Day"
for their story on this event, including a digital rendition of Scott's
Click here to listen to the BBC News
of this event.
on the Phonographia logo on any page to return to the previous Gallery