Au clair de la lune

Today’s entry is sponsored by the Office of The Unintentionally Creepy. Many of us learned in grammar school that Thomas Edison was the first to record the human voice with his invention of thePhonautogram 1 phonograph. Not true! A Parisian printer and bookseller named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville beat Edison to that particular finish line by almost twenty years with his phonautograph, a device which used a horn attached to a diaphragm to vibrate a bristle and inscribe an image on a lamp black-coated, hand-cranked cylinder. Unfortunately, Scott’s invention had no means of ever playing back the recordings. He had written several papers on stenography and was more interested in transcribing the human voice than reproducing it. As such, the phonautograph became a footnote in the scientific study of sound waves and never caught the public interest. Recently, however, researchers at Lawrence Laboratory in Berkeley, California were finally able to convert a phonautogram Scott stored in a Parisian archive into a sound file. The result is profoundly unsettling: a high warbly voice singing the French folk song “Au clair de la lune” from beyond the grave. (Reload if mp3 player fails to materialize above. As it turns out, the recording was initially reproduced at the wrong speed and pitch; a corrected version, likely sung by the inventor himself, can he heard on Scott’s Wikipedia page linked above.)

Au Clair de la Lune–French folk song (1860 Phonautogram)