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123-year-old recording of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, recited it with feeling and expression
July 8, 2011 8:58 AM   Subscribe

The Phonograph Doll was the first attempt at making a talking doll, invented by Thomas Edison. The doll utilized a miniature phonograph to talk, and was possibly the first audio recordings for commercial purposes. An example of the (now 123 year-old) talking doll was found in 1967 in Edison's New Jersey workshop, which is now a National Historic Park and museum. Recently, the warped metal cylinder was optically scanned and re-created, providing a 12-second clip of the oldest known recording of a woman's voice.

Previously covered on MetaFilter: the first known audio recording, which was initially thought to be the voice of a woman, was being played too fast, and was in fact the voice of the French inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville.
posted by filthy light thief (22 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hope the RIAA doesn't catch on that they're giving that mp3 away for free.
posted by crunchland at 9:01 AM on July 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was lazy-watching Oddities the other day, when they had someone bring in an Edison doll - sans the metal cylinder. I just loved how he brought out this amazing old doll from a plain paper bag. I've been thinking about it since, so this was great timing. Thanks!
posted by gemmy at 9:12 AM on July 8, 2011


I love how even 123 years ago, people knew that talking dolls should sound as warped and creepy as possible. Can't sleep... china doll strapped to a phonograph will eat me...
posted by FatherDagon at 9:16 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Holy hell, that recording sounded creepy. Like something ominous out of Dr. Who.
posted by piratebowling at 9:19 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Haven't listened to it, but anticipating: "that's it, right there, harder, yes, daddy, yes, oh yes!" Based on the principle of all technological innovation is first explored for the purposes of sexual gratification.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:20 AM on July 8, 2011


I heard "Islam is the light"
posted by DU at 9:20 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sounds like some incantation. Casting a spell.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:21 AM on July 8, 2011


The Edison site is a goldmine of early recorded sound and recording technologies - literally thousands of cylinder and "Diamond Disc" recordings. A lot of people don't even realize it's there, just outside of New York City. Anyone even remotely interested in researching early recordings needs to start there.
posted by waitingtoderail at 9:21 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


A-Wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boo, Tutti Frutti!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:23 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In other doll-related historical entertainment news, here's the exceedingly creepy Stooky Bill, one of the first television images ever displayed.
posted by zamboni at 9:35 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The accent that the doll has is interesting. It's upper-crusty "dropped r's" which makes sense, since this couldn't have been cheap. But the funny thing about that is that dropped r's have always been the accents of "the enemy". Before 1970 or so, it marked you as rich and therefore A Capitalist Against The People. After 1970 or so, it marked you European and therefore A Communist Against Capitalism.
posted by DU at 9:36 AM on July 8, 2011


I was lazy-watching Oddities the other day, when they had someone bring in an Edison doll

I saw that, too. The Edison collector the Oddities guy took it to, even had the cylinder and playing mechanism and they played it on the show, but it was totally unintelligible.
posted by briank at 9:37 AM on July 8, 2011


I wonder if a sound engineer on here might be able to clean that clip up a bit, or is this the best it can be?
posted by Dragonness at 10:56 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Twinkul twinkul littull stah. Sounds like the voiceover artist had a case of Locust Valley Lockjaw.

Haunting and strange to hear that.
posted by nickyskye at 11:04 AM on July 8, 2011


Sounds like some incantation. Casting a spell.

That's on the other cylinder.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:11 AM on July 8, 2011


My sister owned what was possibly the last generation of that technology; made in the 1980s, some years before digital voice chips made it obsolete, it was a baby doll containing a miniature battery-operated gramophone, triggered by a mercury switchwith a plastic disc, about the size of a jar lid, of a baby crying.

I suspect she still hasn't entirely forgiven me for investigating how it worked.
posted by acb at 11:30 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect she still hasn't entirely forgiven me for investigating how it worked.

You have to have SOMETHING to practice on before you head down to the workshop to try and figure out how real babies work.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2011


"Each tin ring had to be recorded individually, a monotonous job for which the women were presumably being paid,"

I read on another site that there were 12 different titles, i'm curious how those others sound, though i'm sure they're also pretty horrific
posted by fuzzypantalones at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's my own very humble effort at cleaning this up - I also sped it up a notch but I think the pitch probably needs to be modified a little too.
posted by Dragonness at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2011


Hey, at least it didn't say "math is hard".
posted by mynameisluka at 2:55 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Listening to that is just plain creepy.

At the same time, it's nice to see something as antique as this being preserved.
posted by jwmollman at 11:49 PM on July 8, 2011


Hey, at least it didn't say "math is hard".

Or, "I'm too pretty to do math".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:13 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


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