Lost Media Archive

The first known recording of a human voice, from April 9th, 1860. (Phonautograph Etching)

A collection of the oldest in Scott's recordings. It includes the ticking clock, the tuning fork, and the voice recording.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (25 April 1817 - April 26 1879) was a French inventor known for his experiments with the "phonautograph," the earliest known device that could accurately record sound waves. Although the device was never intended to play back the recordings, modern day digital photography has made it possible to translate the recordings into actual, audible sounds. In 2008, some of the phonautograms were played back for the first time. This made them the earliest known recorded sounds, predating Edison's early tinfoil experiments by nearly 20 years.

Because of Scott's fascination of visible sound, he spent approximately 20 years recording many different sounds. Of the examples, most of them were recordings of ticking clocks, string instruments, air currents, distant voices, and a tuning fork. One particular example proved to be quite impressive to historians; A recording of a person singing a rendition of "Au Clair de la Lune," a classic French folk tune, recorded on April 9, 1860. When originally played, historians misread Scott's notes and played it at double speed, making the listener identify the gender of the singer to be a woman. However, after many corrections, the recording was played back at the correct speed, and the gender was revealed to be male, most likely Scott himself.

According to several sources, there were earlier recordings on the device that featured the human voice. However, most of these recordings are either extremely deteriorated, or are far too indecipherable to be of any significance. Many people still long to hear these recordings, though, as they were the earliest known recorded sounds made by humans. An unconfirmed rumor surrounds the device. Many claim that Scott toured the United States in the 1860's with the device. There is evidence that Scott had, at one point, met Abraham Lincoln; While it is unclear if it really happened, Scott allegedly recorded Lincoln giving his opinion on slavery. If this recording surfaces, it would be the earliest surviving sound recording of a U.S. president. Historians, however, doubt its existence.

Technology is getting progressively closer to being able to decipher Scott's surviving recordings. There may still be recordings that can be correctly played, leading to a treasure trove of historical lost media.


Leon Scott's COMPLETE DISCOGRAPHY 1853 - 1860

Update 11/1/15: on Jun 11, 2014, the complete-known discography of Leon Scott's phonautograph recordings was uploaded to YouTube. Although the earliest recordings are nearly indecipherable (due to a lack of time codes, and irregular spinning of the phonautograms) they have all been converted to playable, audible recordings.