Earliest Voice Recordings - around 1860!

Popular wisdom is that Edison was the first person to record the human voice. Wrong! It appears the very first was Edouard Leon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and librarian, on a device he called a "phonautograph". American researchers put together a 10-second audio clip of a French folk song which they believe is the oldest recognisable recording of the human voice. Scott's phonoautograph picture is shown here and had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a hog's bristle stylus which etched sound waves onto sheets of smoke-blackened paper. The recording  from 1860 is of a young lady singing from the 18th century folk song "Au Clair de la Lune".

The recording was discovered at the French Academy of Sciences by David Gioavannoni, an "audio historian" who led the effort to find Scott's original "phonoautograms". Mr Giovannoni found earlier recordings dating back as early as 1857.  Mr Giovannoni sent scans of the recording to the Berkeley Lab where they were carefully converted into sound using modern technology. Originally the idea was to record the pattern of the human voice and not to actually play the sound back. This was achieved 150 years later.

Edison's recording of himself reciting 'Mary had a little lamb', recorded on a tinfoil cylinder is no longer playable. It dates from 1877. The first playable recording is thought to be from a performance of a Handel oratorio at Crystal Palace in 1888.

If you want to hear the 1860 recording follow this link to the New York Times: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/audiosrc/arts/1860v2.mp3 

Some other recordings include Thomas Edison and Florence Nightingale (1890) here on the left. Also of interest is the earliest recording of music (Handel's Israel in Egypt) recorded in 1888. In the clip on the right is the earliest surviving moving film - a street scene from Leeds England.