People often credit Thomas Edison with capturing the first sounds but Edouard–Léon Scott de Martinville invented sound recording 20 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.
Sound recording has come a long way since the first recorded sound was captured over a century and a half ago. While Thomas Edison is often credited with inventing the phonograph, the first recorded sound in history was actually captured years earlier by a French inventor named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. In this article, we take a look at Scott de Martinville’s groundbreaking work and its significance in the history of sound recording.
Scott de Martinville was a printer and bookseller from Paris who became interested in the idea of capturing and reproducing sound in the 1850s. He spent several years experimenting with various designs, and eventually came up with a machine that he called the phonautograph. Unlike Edison’s phonograph, the phonautograph did not play back recorded sounds but instead made a visual representation of sound waves on a sheet of paper.
Scott de Martinville’s first recorded sound was captured in April 9th of 1860, and it was a simple French folk song. An eerie rendition of the folksong “Au clair de la lune,” the clip was captured by Scott’s trademark invention, the phonautograph. The recording was made by singing into a horn, which sent the sound waves to a membrane that was attached to a stylus. The stylus traced the sound waves onto a sheet of paper that was covered in soot, and the result was a visual representation of the sound waves.
While the phonautograph was not designed to play back recorded sounds, it was a groundbreaking invention that paved the way for the development of sound recording technology. Scott de Martinville’s work demonstrated the feasibility of capturing sound and making a visual representation of it, which laid the foundation for future developments in the field.
Unfortunately, Scott de Martinville’s work was not widely known during his lifetime, and he did not receive the recognition he deserved for his pioneering efforts. It was not until the late 20th century that his recordings were rediscovered, and they have since become an important part of the history of sound recording.
In 2008, a team of researchers from the First Sounds organization digitized Scott de Martinville’s recordings, and they became the first recordings ever to be played back. The team used cutting-edge digital technology to scan the phonautograph recordings and convert them into digital audio files, which allowed them to be played back for the first time in nearly 150 years. The team’s work was a major milestone in the history of sound recording, and it demonstrated the lasting impact of Scott de Martinville’s pioneering work.
Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s work on the phonautograph was a seminal moment in the history of sound recording. His recordings, which were the first ever made, marked the beginning of a journey that has led to the development of modern sound recording technology. Scott de Martinville’s pioneering efforts laid the foundation for the phonograph and other sound recording devices that have had a profound impact on society and culture. While he may not have received the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, his legacy lives on through his recordings, which remain an important part of the history of sound recording.
If you want to understand music production terms read our Recording Studio Dictionary