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History, Music, Sound

At the end of the 19th Century the inventor Thomas Edison invented a machine that could reproduce sound mechanically.  This machine was known as a ‘Phonograph‘. Inventors had produced devices that could record sound but Edison’s Invention was the first to reproduce recorded sounds.  His original instrument recorded sound onto a tinfoil sheet wrapped around a rotating cylinder. There were several improvements throughout the 1880s by Alexander Graham Bell‘s Volta Laboratory.  Then came the Gramophone, a new machine patented by Emile Berliner which could reproduce sounds from discs or records. The Gramophone revolutionized music in the domestic home by the 1900s. They were expensive but every family wanted to own one so they could add an entrainment value to their domestic household.  Listen to an old advertisement for the ‘Radio Gramophone’.

The earliest device for recording sound is known as a Phonautograph and was invented by a french man called Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville.  The Phonautograph was patented on 25th March 1857. The Instrument could be used to study and measure the amplitude envelopes and waveforms of speech and other sounds.  Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville called his recordings Phonautographs. Scott, with the help of Rudolph Koenig (a musical maker living in Paris) constructed some machines for scientific purposes though his invention didn’t make him a profit and he lived out the rest of his days as a librarian and a bookseller. He died on 26th April 1879 – two years after Thomas Edison’s invention of the Phonograph.

Scott used a horn to collect sound, a diaphragm at the end of the horn 
that vibrated from the sound, a stiff brush bristle attached to the 
diaphragm, and a rotating cylinder covered with lampblack or blackened 
paper that recorded the wavy lines from the vibrating diaphragm and bristle.

Taken from the Audio Engineering Society Website: www.aes.org
Leon Scott's Phonautograph from Smithsonian Institution.

Leon Scott’s Phonautograph from Smithsonian Institution.

In 2008 several phonautograms recorded before 1861 were successfully scanned and processed into digital audio files by First Sounds. First Sounds seek out the world’s oldest recordings and are dedicated to audio preservation.  First sounds researcher Patrick Feaster and David Giovannoni collected several dozen recordings made in Paris between 1853 and 1860. These collections of work lay silent for 150 years until First Sounds brought them to our attention using modern technology. Have a listen to recordings made by Léon Scott between the years of 1853 – 1860. Special thanks to the researches at First Sounds.org for the sounds and images presented below. Have a listen!

Track Listing

0:00: Notes played on guitar by Adolphe Giacomelli (1853 or 1854)
Plays 2 times!
0:06: First ever voice recording captured from the air (1853 or 1854)
Plays 3 times!
The above two recordings are Scott’s first experiments, a proof of concept made before his device was completely built.
0:11: Phonautography of the voice at a distance (March 1857)
0:17: Song of the voice, changes in tone (July 1857)
1:25: Song at a distance (“The Echoes”) (August 17, 1857)
1:43: Ashen Pipe (Aug – Oct. 1857)
2:15: Stylus of Bristle (Aug – Oct. 1857)
3:10: The Sound of a Deep Voice (October 1857)
3:26: The Lord’s Prayer (October 1857)
3:50: Study of the Timber of the Voice (November 1857)
4:20: The Timber of the Cornet (December 1857)
All the above recordings were made with no timecode listed by Scott, so we can only guess at a proper playback speed. All are believed to feature the voice of Leon Scott except the 1853 guitar solo, the “Song at a Distance”, with a possible young girl guest vocalist, and “The Timber of the Cornet” with an unidentified cornet performer.
4:32: Tuning Fork Vibrating at 435 Hz (Late 1859)
At This point, Scott was using a tuning fork timecode for his recordings, so proper intelligble playback is possible.
4:39: Au Clair de la Lune (at 2 speeds, in 2 different takes.) (April 9 & 20, 1860)
5:11: Shakespeare : Othello excerp (2 takes) (April 17 & 18 1860)
5:50: R, I, RI, R, A, RA, RIRA (Will Laugh) (April 18, 1860)
6:08: Racine : Phedre (excerp) (April 19, 1860)
6:30: Tasso : Aminta (excerp) (April – May 1860)
6:45: Vocal Scale (May 17, 1860)
7:04: Cherubini : Et Incarnatus Est (Sept 1, 1860)
7:21: Masse : Fly, Little Bee (September 1860, or later)

Leon Scott's phonautograph, 1857.

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