Over a hundred years ago, Thomas Edison first attempted to record sound and moving image in synchronization (a task that still challenges undergrad film students). The results were believed lost for many years, until the sound was recovered on a broken cylinder. Edison’s original experiment actually failed, but in the hands of legendary film and sound editor Walter Murch, these 17 seconds of film history are now restored realized more perfectly than even Edison could:

1895 Edison “Kinetophone” Test, shot by William Dickson [Internet Archive]

The restoration is a story in itself, employing the collaborative efforts not only of Mr. Murch, but the Library of Congress, the Edison National Historic Site, the incredible sonic restoration capabilities of the Rogers and Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound at Lincoln Center, and Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light & Magic. Most strikingly, the archive was able to repair and re-record the broken cylinder, while Murch managed to perfectly sync the sound with the video. Edison’s experiment worked, only just over a century later than anticipated.

The film itself is a surreal dance with violin accompaniment, dwarfed by the giant cone used for recording. Since Mr. Murch and Sean Cullen donated the film to the Internet Archive, it’s also Creative Commons-licensed, meaning you can create your own audiovisual experiments with the footage. I expect the fully remixed version in my inbox within the week.

A playback note: the MPEG2 I downloaded didn’t properly reproduce sound in QuickTime 7, ironically enough. In the open source MPlayer (Mac; also on Linux and VLC (cross-platform) players, I had no trouble.