Everybody knows that Thomas Edison came up with a way to play back recorded sound in 1877, right? That must mean that he was the first to record sound as well, right?
If you believed that, you would be wrong. A French scientist known as Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville actually did the first audio recording 17 years earlier through his invention known as the phonautogram. The thing is, the phonautogram enabled Scott de Martinville to create a visual representation of his voice, but he wasn't able to play it back. All he could see was lines etched in soot by a feather.
But an organization called The First Sounds Collaborative found that first recording along with 5 others in the archives of the French Academy of Sciences in 2008 and have been working on a playback system since. Finally they've been successful, and now we all can hear a rather primitive bit clear recording of a voice of a man from 150 years ago singing the French song "Au Clair de la lune."
The interesting thing is that although Scott de Martinville never expected anyone to play it back, he did include a recording of a tuning fork along with his singing. Imagine that - the guy was forward thing enough that he included a reference tone recording nearly a hundred years before it became it became a standard practice during the time of magnetic audio tape.
You can hear all this for yourself along with a great explanation of the phonautogram at the firstsounds.org website. The site is a treasure trove of historical audio information.
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