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October 25, 2012 9:15 PM   Subscribe

The oldest known recording of American voice has been restored and replayed for the first time in over 100 years. Dating to June 22, 1878, the recording was made for an early Edison phonograph on tin foil which had become too fragile and torn to play back. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory optically scanned the foil and developed a program to replay it digitally.

The recording is evidently of a newspaper writer named Thomas Mason (who went under the pen name I.X. Peck) who purchased the phonograph from Edison and made an exposition of it in St. Louis. The recording features cornet music as well as Mason reciting nursery rhymes and laughing. Flubbing a line to Old Mother Hubbard, he also creates the first recorded blooper. Three weeks after making the recording, Mason died of sunstroke.

The oldest playable recording of any voice dates to 1860, a phonautograph of a Frenchman singing Au Clair de la Lune. Previously and Previously
posted by Esteemed Offendi (29 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here is the recommended version from the third link.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:34 PM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


How far we've come.

"You won't hear a buzz, but I'm buzzing you in. I'm buzzing you in..."
posted by bicyclefish at 9:39 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sounds almost exactly like a really bad connection on an old analog cell phone.
posted by gjc at 10:38 PM on October 25, 2012


Obligatory Charlotte Green cracking up hearing the earliest known recording during a news broadcast.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:40 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fascinating!
posted by mazola at 10:43 PM on October 25, 2012


I always get so creeped out when I hear such old recordings. It is like hearing ghosts speak. However, it seems so right and proper that they are so incredibly distorted and noisy. It will be very interesting when we have access to all of these high quality audio recordings from now in 50 years or so. The past will no longer feel like the past.

I get an opposite strange feeling when I see high quality film from the 60's or 70's: it almost looks like now, but it isn't.
posted by montag2k at 10:46 PM on October 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's ten minutes past eight.
posted by MHPlost at 10:50 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, here is an interesting article from Slate which takes the discovery of the recording as a launching pad to discuss what people sounded like in the past, and how written documents and migratory patterns help clue us in....
posted by theartandsound at 10:58 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Clair de Lune recordings scared the hell out of my dog. I got him from a shelter about a week and a half ago and until now I have not seen him spooked by anything.

Congratulations, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. You scared a dog in 2012 and you'll never know you did it.

Scared me too, especially the speed and pitch corrected version. Shiver.
posted by cmyk at 11:10 PM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Readers are advised to wear a regular hat over the standard tin foil hat.
posted by pracowity at 11:25 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember when we phonautographed that. We were naked. It was a marvelous evening.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:50 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


The cornet playing at the start sounded like the beluga whale pretending to be a human.
posted by b33j at 12:02 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was Mortimer. He was a few sheets.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:22 AM on October 26, 2012


"Our 10th caller wins free tickets to Supertramp!"
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:11 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


For really spooky see this (the recording on the right).

"The last Sistine castrato to survive was Alessandro Moreschi, the only castrato to have made solo recordings"
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 4:05 AM on October 26, 2012


Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory optically scanned the foil and developed a program to replay it digitally.

Pfft. Sara on CSI did the same thing just this week with some broken records. With lasers!
posted by Thorzdad at 4:18 AM on October 26, 2012



Pfft. Sara on CSI did the same thing just this week with some broken records. With lasers!


They have actually has laser turntables for a while now. I'm kind of surprised it took this long to figure out how to extract the audio from these old mediums.
posted by gjc at 6:55 AM on October 26, 2012


gjc:
Pfft. Sara on CSI did the same thing just this week with some broken records. With lasers!


They have actually has laser turntables for a while now. I'm kind of surprised it took this long to figure out how to extract the audio from these old mediums.
It hasn't - it just took a while for those with the technology to get in touch with those who own the media.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:51 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just listened to the voice of a civil-war-era journalist.

So today's not too bad.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:10 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I keep waiting for the drop.
posted by Mister_A at 8:43 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Laser turntable, only $15,910.
posted by the jam at 9:05 AM on October 26, 2012


i love digital media, but stories like this one make me a bit sad for the future. Will anyone be able to access an old mp3 player 150 years from now? Or further? I can imagine fossils of phonographs being used to recreate audio, but not of a hard drive.
posted by th3ph17 at 9:09 AM on October 26, 2012


Is this the link to the pitch/speed corrected version? The laughter sounds too slow. Maybe his hand-cranking speed was affected while he was cracking up?
posted by xorry at 9:15 AM on October 26, 2012


Three weeks after making the recording, Mason died of sunstroke.

I.X.Peck the excitement was too much for him.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:49 AM on October 26, 2012


th3ph17: I'm not a computer expert by any means, but are there any file-types which have become nigh-inaccessible yet? We have the documentation on what they are - there's no reason to believe that future technologies would be unable to recreate readers for file-types used today, is there?
posted by Navelgazer at 9:54 AM on October 26, 2012


Of all crackpot ideas, one of the ones I most wish were true is the idea that we could recover accidental sound recordings from grooves made in pottery when it was spinning on the wheel.
posted by straight at 10:23 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Navelgazer: High quality DRM might do it. I once read a science fiction story where civilization collapsed when they lost the decryption keys to all their DRMed textbooks.
posted by monotreme at 10:25 AM on October 26, 2012


are there any file-types which have become nigh-inaccessible yet?

Plenty, actually, and pretty recent ones at that. I don't know if there's any that are completely impossible to read, but try reading, say, an old WordPerfect document you've got on a 3.5" floppy. First you need a working floppy drive, and that's probably the easiest part. Hopefully you can even read the disk. And it's not just computer data, I remember reading recently about the guy who has the only known working machine that can read 2" video tape (think TV shows from the 60s-70s), and he had to cobble it together from like 10 other broken machines.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:43 AM on October 26, 2012


One of my favorite Cyberpunk stories, relevant to this topic.

Buzz

by Rudy Rucker

NSFW

“I was reading in a magazine that someone had the idea of treating turned antiquities as noise-plates.” His measured eyes stare at her, looking to see if she understands. One eye is blue, one green.

Lola shakes her head and Uli tries again. “I robbed an Egyptian vase from the museum.” He picks up an empty juice-glass and turns it on its side. As he continues talking, he rolls the glass with one hand and touches it delicately with a pencil. “There was a little groove ringed around and around. The Egyptian worker a long time ago made noise and his knife trembled. My phonographic stylus turned the trembling back into voice. A song not his. A very strange song.”

posted by charlie don't surf at 6:18 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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