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In Your Face, Edison: New Oldest Recording Found

Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Long considered the inventor of the first sound-recording machine after he unveiled his phonograph in 1877, Thomas Edison has now been usurped by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, whose “phonautograph” appears to predate Edison’s earliest recordings by about 28 years. De Martinville’s day of international glory has been delayed, sadly, by the fact that his phonautograph was designed to record sounds but not to play them back, making it both the world’s first and most useless recording device.

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley recently figured out a way to “play” the surviving “phonautogram,” which is basically a piece of paper with squiggles on it, and — voila! A new oldest recording ever! The ten-second clip is of a woman singing “Au Claire de la Lune,” though it sounds more like a ghost trying to scare you out of a haunted house:



We are now working to find a way to make this our new ringtone, which would make it roughly the third most annoying ringtone of anyone who works in our office. (Crying-baby ringtone, we’re talking to you.) —Adam Sternbergh

Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison [NYT]