Home Bookselling On this day in 1860, the human voice was recorded for the...

On this day in 1860, the human voice was recorded for the first time in human history


When French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville sang a nursery rhyme into his phonograph on April 9, 1860, he had no intention of playing this recording again. Precursor of the wax cylinder, the phonautograph (device allowing to record visual sounds without being able to reproduce them) took inputs for the study of sound waves but could not be transformed into an output device. Over 160 years later, Scott’s voice can now be heard in what is believed to be the first-ever recording of human sound.

The human voice recorded by Guinness World Records is a ten-second fragment of the French nursery rhyme “Au Clair de la Lune”. Discovered in 2008 by researchers in Paris, the clip was created on paper using a phonautograph.

Scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (USA) analyzed the paper recording and used optical imaging as a “virtual pen”, allowing the clip to be played back for the first time.

According to educational outlet Open Culture, Scott had been interested in the invention of photography and wondered if he could do something similar with sound waves, focused as he was on improving shorthand. . The phonautograph picked up sound vibrations through a diaphragm, which moved a stylus against a rotating cylinder covered in lampblack. What remained was a wavy line in a concentric circle.

However, he didn’t know how to replay them. Scott’s invention never worked and he returned to the bookstore. His creation and some of the paper cylinders were sent to museums.

Scribbles discovered in 2008

In 2008, American audio historians found the squiggles and turned to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and software called IRENE, designed to extract sounds from wax cylinders without touching the delicate surfaces. The first pass revealed what they first thought was a child or young woman singing “Au Clair de la lune”, the French nursery rhyme (not Debussy’s piano work).

However, closer examination of the inventor’s notes revealed that the recording was at a significantly slower speed and was a baritone voice, probably Scott, singing the lullaby.

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