Invitations to speak on the topic of recorded sound are seriously considered by First Sounds principals.
Past events include:
- Phonautograms: The World's Oldest Recorded Sounds
Noon Concert and Lecture Series, March 25 2011, Bloomington, IN.
The recent playback of sound recordings made in the 1850s and 1860s, well before Edison built his first phonograph, has pushed back the audibly accessible history of recorded sound by decades. IUB Folklore Ph.D. and FirstSounds.org co-founder Patrick Feaster has been a principal in this endeavor and will discuss how and why these recordings were originally made, how they have been converted back into sound, and what they can tell us today. Co-sponsored by the Archives of Traditional Music Noon Concert Series and the IU-OSU Folklore and Ethnomusicology Student Conference.
- Humanity's First Recordings of Its Own Voice
In mid-nineteenth-century France, during the dawn of practical photography, amateur inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville conceived of a machine that did with sound what the camera did with light. Between 1854 and 1860 he experimented with focusing airborne sounds of speech and music onto paper, thereby capturing what had theretofore been ephemeral. His phonautograph bore a striking resemblance to Edison's phonograph of 20 years later. But his recordings, unlike Edison's, were meant to be read by the eye, not heard by the ear.
For a century-and-a-half his experiments lay quietly in the venerable French archives in which he deposited them. Then in 2007 a few audio historians hypothesized there was a real possibility that modern technology could develop these experimental recordings like dormant photographic plates. Instead of exposing images, however, these would bear sounds—perhaps even humanity's first recordings of its own voice!
In this presentation David Giovannoni recounts how he and his colleagues have identified dozens of these forgotten documents and coaxed several to talk and to sing. A principal in their discovery and recovery, Giovannoni is the first person since Scott de Martinville to personally examine every recording. He'll explain how they were made and how they are played. He'll discuss Scott de Martinville's experiments, his reception in established scientific circles, and his early descent into an unmarked grave. These stories and adventures are shared by Giovannoni for the first time in a public venue.
Library of Congress: November 1 2010, Washington DC.
Free and open to the public. 7:00 pm, Mary Pickford Theater, Library of Congress Madison Building.
AMIA/IASA Joint Conference: November 5 2010, Philadelphia PA.
Association of Moving Image Archivists and the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives. Registration required.
Thomas Edison National Historical Park: November 6 2010, West Orange NJ.
Free and open to the public. 7:00 pm, Laboratory Complex. Reservations required: 973-736-0550, ext.89.
- Before Edison, Part 2 — Recovering (and Reinterpreting) the World's First Audio Recordings
The Audio Engineering Society: 127th AES Convention, October 10 2009, New York, NY.
First Sounds rewrote history last year when it recovered one of mankind's first recordings of its own voice, made in Paris in 1860 — advancing by 17 years the invention of audio recording. Attendees at the 125th AES Convention were the first to hear what was then believed to be the world's second-oldest retrievable sound. This year First Sounds founder David Giovannoni returned to AES to report the most recent discoveries and introduce even older sounds. He told of finding a seminal cache of documents that traced (literally) the development of the phonautograph from proof of concept to laboratory instrument and described the technical challenges of evoking sound from primitive recordings made to be seen, not heard. And he recounted how the inventor's own voice was revealed after posing for a year as the phantasm of a young woman.
- Adieu Sweet Apparition. Hello Sweetheart — Get Me Rewrite!
The Association of Moving Image Archivists: The Reel Thing XXII, August 21-22 2009, Hollywood, CA.
First Sounds rewrote history last year when it recovered one of mankind's first recordings of its own voice, made in Paris in 1860 — advancing by 17 years the invention of audio recording. Attendees at Reel Thing XX were among the first to hear the inside story from First Sounds' founder David Giovannoni. This year Giovannoni returned to Reel Thing XXII to discuss recent discoveries and introduce new old sounds. He told of finding a seminal cache of documents that traced (literally) the development of the phonautograph from proof of concept to laboratory instrument and described the technical challenges of evoking sound from primitive recordings made to be seen, not heard. And he recounted how the inventor's own voice was revealed after posing for a year as the phantasm of a young woman.
- Adventures In Archeophony & New Directions In Phonautographic History
Association for Recorded Sound Collections: 43rd Annual Conference, May 29 2009, Washington DC.
Patrick Feaster and David Giovannoni announced significant new developments in our understanding of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s pioneering work on sound recording. In the first part, David Giovannoni discusses ongoing efforts to identify and conserve, access and study mankind’s very first recordings of its own voice. In the second,Patrick Feaster traces Scott’s ideas and efforts between 1853 and 1861 in light of recent archival discoveries, for the first time setting forth a history informed by the study of all his known phonautograms.
» Listen to audio from both of their presentations
- The Quest for the World’s Oldest Recorded Sounds
Audio Engineering Society, Chicago section meeting, November 20 2008, Chicago, IL.
In March 2008, an initiative called First Sounds pushed back the starting date of the world’s audio heritage by recovering a voice singing “Au Clair de la Lune” from a waveform inscribed on April 9, 1860—over seventeen years before Thomas Edison built his first phonograph. The 148- year-old vocal performance had been captured by the phonautograph of Parisian typographer Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, an instrument designed to scratch sound waves onto soot-blackened paper for visual analysis with no thought of playback. First Sounds principal Patrick Feaster discussed the goals and methods of “pre-phonographic” sound recording—seemingly prescient, and yet startlingly unfamiliar—as well as the technical challenges involved today in converting these primeval squiggles back into recognizable sound.
- Reconstructing the World's First Audio Recordings
The Audio Engineering Society: 125th AES Convention, October 2-5 2008, San Francisco, CA.
First Sounds, an informal collaborative of audio engineers and historians, recently augmented the historical record and made international headlines by playing back a phonautogram made in Paris in April 1860 — a ghostly, ten-second evocation of a French folk song. This and other phonautograms establish a forgotten French typesetter as the first person to record reproducible airborne sounds 17 years before Edison invented the phonograph. Primitive and nearly accidental, the world's first audio recordings pose a unique set of technical challenges. David Giovannoni of First Sounds discussed their recovery and restoration.
- The Phonautogram Diaries: The Discovery and Recovery of the World's Oldest Recorded Sounds
California Antique Phonograph Society: CAPS Banquet, August 9 2008, Los Angeles, CA.
In March of this year an upstart collaborative called First Sounds stunned the world by evoking a voice recorded in Paris in April 1860. This ten-second rendition of a haunting French folk song was introduced on the front page of The New York Times and has been echoing around the world ever since. In this informal after-dinner conversation, CAPS member and First Sounds instigator David Giovannoni recounted how American initiative established a forgotten French typesetter as the rightful inventor of recorded sound.
- The Phonautogram: Recorded Sound's First Medium
The Association of Moving Image Archivists: The Reel Thing XX, June 6-7 2008, Los Angeles, CA.
The first carrier of recorded sound was not a tinfoil sheet or a wax cylinder, but a soot-covered piece of paper called a phonautogram. The First Sounds collaborative recently recovered the sounds captured on the earliest phonautograms — advancing by 17 years the advent of audio recording, and by 28 years the oldest sound available to us today. David Giovannoni, a principal in the collaborative, discussed the making and makeup of phonautograms, issues concerning their identification and conservation, and the challenges of restoring the world's oldest sound recordings.
- Let There Be Sound
Association for Recorded Sound Collections: 42nd Annual Conference, March 28 2008, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA.
News that voices and music could be captured from the air, reproduced at will, and preserved for all time seriously bent ninteenth century minds. To appreciate the enormity of this paradigmatic shift we withdraw from the present, forget subsequent developments, and steep ourselves in the mindset of the time. Only then can we fully understand the awe the phonograph engendered when it was new, startling, and truly revolutionary.