You know how everyone’s always thought that Thomas Edison–famous inventor the lightbulb, the phonograph, the immortal soul, etc.–was the first person to record sound? Well, it turns out that’s just a pack of dirty lies perpetuated by the victors of history–maybe.
While it’s true that Edison did, in fact, invent the phonograph, the first machine to both record sound and reproduce it as sound, it was a rightfully spiteful Parisian typesetter by the name of Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville who was the first guy to record sound at all, if only as a visual representation in lines and squiggles. Finally, after searching for years for the original gift of sound and vision, an American audio historian, David Giovannoni, recently got a hold of a “pristine” one of these phonautograms, apparently the audio equivalent of the “holy grail.”
Giovannoni then sent this phonautogram to Lawrence Lab so the scientists up there could try to make the Berkeley hills come alive with the sound of some lady singing “Au Clair de la Lune”; a folk song not to be confused with the Debussy piece from the end of “Ocean’s 11.” This, Carl Haber and Earl Cornell did gladly, using a “virtual stylus” that took the optical image from the phonautogram and was able to play it back. Because the recording eventually translated into accurate sound, Leon Scott’s phonautogram–which predates Edison’s phonograph schtick by almost two decades–officially wins as the first ever recording of sound.
So take that, Thomas Alva Edison, you “Birth of a Nation”-loving, recognition Nazi! The hills have eyes and they’re watching you.
Tags:David Bowie, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, phonograph, Science, Thomas Edison
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