22 June 2008

Voices from the Past: The Worlds Oldest Sound Recording plus Florence Nightingale & others

The voice of an unknown woman singing in a lamp-lit Paris laboratory nearly 150 years ago came to life on the 28th March 2008 amid the crackles and buzz of a historic breakthrough recording made 17 years before Edison invented the phonograph.

“It’s ghostly. It’s magic,” audio historian David Giovannoni said of the sounds that filled a Stanford recital hall. “This voice is a young woman trying to come into the 21st century to sing for us. It’s like discovering the world’s oldest photograph and learning that the photograph was taken 17 years before the invention of the camera,” Giovannoni said. “In this case, the oldest sound that we can generally hear, up until today, has been from 1888. This predates it by 28 years. . . .”
Giovannoni played the sound again for a loudly applauding audience of 150 scientists, musicologists, audiophiles and phonograph collectors who had come to hear the long-ago French soprano singing “Au Clair de la Lune” in warbling tones restored by physicists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The music had been transformed from barely visible waves originally etched on soot-blackened paper by a Parisian typesetter named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. Created on April 9, 1860, it is the first known recording of any sound. A phonograph of Thomas Edison singing a children’s song in 1888 was previously thought to be the oldest record.

Read the full story here and hear the recording for yourself!

Something I have always been fascinated with is history. And as the BBC is going to be broadcasting a new programme about Florence Nightingale soon I thought it would be a good idea to publicise the recording made of her speaking back in 1890 which is available on the British Library website. This remarkable recording was made on 30 July by the British representative of Thomas Edison in aid of the Light Brigade Relief Fund, following public concern about the destitution of survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the battle of Balaclava in 1854.

I remember the first time I heard this recording, which only lasts a minute or so, but to hear the voice of so famous a person from so long ago suddenly brings them right into the present and seems to make them more real and not just a name in a history book.

Listen to Florence Nightingale (30 July 1890)

Other voices from the past at the same site include:-
Stanley Baldwin
Margaret Thatcher
Bertrand Russell
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Vladimir Ilich Lenin
David Lloyd George
George V
Princess Elizabeth
Christabel Harriette Pankhurst

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