Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Ancient" Audio and the Phonautograph

You may remember an April Fools hoax a few years ago about audio captured on clay pottery that made its way around the net. Or you may remember the Mythbusters covering the possibility (Busted, If I remember correctly).

Leaving Edison as the first able to "record" audio for future playback. Well, not exactly. According to the NYTimes, that honor goes to a Frenchman named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, who "recorded" a 10 second clip of “Au Clair de la Lune” on of all things PAPER almost 20 years before Edison and his tin foil and nearly 30 years before the wax cylinder.

Scott’s device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.
The NYTimes article has even included the clip in MP3 format. Holy Digital Conversion, Batman. Apparently it took almost 150 years, a few engineers and the assistance of computers and scanners to be able to playback any of his recordings. But hey, first is First right. It goes on to state how excited a group of audiophiles and historians are that this important piece of history has been uncovered and will be presented at the annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif on Friday. But then again these guys are an excitable bunch anyway.

Read the full article here.

OK, sure the guy "recorded" sound, he apparently was very upset that Edison beat him to the patent office and generally received all the glory. Somehow though, I think recording 10 seconds on 2 sheets of paper would make an LP sized recording equivalent to an encyclopedia and thus slightly impractical.

What do you think? has a rather lengthy piece on the Scott and his curious phonautograph device, including some lovely photos.


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