The earliest instance of recorded sound will have its first public hearing today at a conference for the Association for Recorded Sound Collections at Stanford University, USA. The phonautograph dates from 1860, 18 years before Thomas Edison invented his phonograph and 27 years before Emile Berliner patented the gramophone.
The phonautograph was created by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville [1817-1879], a French inventor but, unlike the phonograph, it was not intended to create audible sounds. The device, using a needle, etched the soundwaves from the voice onto soot-covered paper from an oil lamp, creating a kind of sheet music.
From this, audio historians have now been able to reinterpret the written soundwaves using a digital scan of the paper, producing an audible score. What results from the 1860 recording is a woman singing a 10-second clip of Au Clair de la lune, never heard before.
The woman is widely thought to be Scott's daughter. More details about Scott's invention may be found in the following reports.
The BBC provides interviews with audio specialists with illustrations.And, courtesy of First Sounds, you can hear for yourself the world's oldest recorded sound.
iTWire carries a detailed report with links to related articles.
America's NPR supplies a photograph and detailed audio report.