Sorry, Edison. It seems the famed “Mary Had a Little Lamb” recording by Thomas Edison — thought to be the first-ever audio recording — was actually late to the party. A recording on April 9, 1860 by a typesetter and inventor (Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville) was apparently first, according to a discovery by audio historians digging through an archive. Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. have reconstructed that recording. It sounds — well, barely like a recording at all, but you can vaguely make out singing in the background. (Not quite hi-fi.)

Au Clair de la Lune [MP3]

The Edison recording worked more like phonograph recordings to follow; it was recorded on tin foil. But this recording was essentially optical — a phonautogram that recorded sound visually. There’s a terrific article at the New York Times:

Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison (via … my Dad! Thanks, Dad!)

Anyone familiar with phonautogram technology, I’d love to hear from you. Historians in our midst, perhaps?

More historical oddities: How Francis Bacon predicted the recording studio in ‘New Atlantis’ in 1626 on Music thing

Updated: The original inventor didn’t get to hear his recording — it debuted in 2008. (And you think your record label takes a long time to release things.) The reason? The device could record, but couldn’t play back.

More on the technology involved, including a bizarre alternative using a dead person’s ear.

  • A tech question. I've been messing around with flashplayers on my site (and wanting to get 30 of them on one page). Right now I am using the delicious tagger player, which is ugly but does not hinder load time. If I use a flash player like the one in this post, I can control color, but it takes forever to load multiple players. Anyone have suggestions out there have great solutions for posting recorded audio?

    Here's a link to my site to see what I'm talking about:

  • We're using this:

    A little — politically weird, that site (as per the name) — but it's working nicely and well-trusted in the WP community.

    We may wind up doing something customized down the road, though. If we do, we'll open source it. 🙂

  • thanks for the response, and sorry for the slightly off-topic comment!

  • Well, we could bring it back *on topic* — maybe a phonautogram plug-in for WP? 😉

  • I'm guessing it's similar to analogue optical audio tracks on motion picture film

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Phonautographs and Recording with a Dead Guy’s Ear()

  • i was going to comment that this wasn't the first audio recording … there was that forensically-reconstructed-conversation-taken-from a-clay-pot thing that made the rounds last year.

    but it turns out that that was a hoax:

    so now i'll just comment that that audio clip gave me the uncle bobs.

  • @seismo: Well, this wasn't the first recording, because this inventor was working prior to 1860. I think it's the first one that was reconstructed… and yeah, too bad the other one was a hoax. It was a great hoax, though.

  • Rozling

    I find that sound quite chilling to listen to – for some reason it gives me a strange sense of the person being lost in time… it's cool to get a fresh (aka as old as human recording technology) perspective on recording.

    This is funny: one of the BBC's Radio presenters pissed herself (not literally) laughing reading this story on air….

    What do you guys think of the Music Thing story about Francis Bacon's prediction of recording studios and… more?

    mmm. bacon.

  • Rozling

    Sorry I know it's not a Music Thing story but a quote which Tom highlighted, but you know what I mean. I think it'd be nice to print out the quote and put it up on the studio wall.

  • Don't forget to check out:

  • Greg Anderstein

    Is this older than digi's old stuff with warfare?

  • Margaret Forest

    I've been reading about this, and it's intriguing, but how do we know it's legit? A few years ago, a classical CD mag released an 1840 "recording" of Chopin playing the Minute Waltz, using the exact same technology, which they claimed was buried in a garden in Paris. Well, guess what, guys: it was totally fake, but it had fooled musicologists and sound recording experts all over the world, because people WANTED to believe it! This thing does not feel legit to me, and their website is plenty strange, with a smug, concocted feel. Sorry, I don't think they're providing enough proof for me to believe this. If it's presented as "scientific", people will be intimidated enough by their ignorance to accept it. How gullible the public can be!