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Scott de Martinville


Volta Laboratory



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Our Sounds

First Sounds has been in the forefront of finding and playing back the world's earliest audio recordings since 2007. When we began, the earliest sound anyone could hear was from 1888. In 2008 we pushed that date back 28 years, to 1860. Since then we have delved even further into the past.

The first recordings of airborne sounds were traced onto lamp blacked paper; they were made to be viewed, not played. David Giovannoni, Earl Cornell, and Patrick Feaster pioneered the methods to make them audible. Other recordings were inscribed by light onto photographic media or preserved via printing press; Patrick Feaster has been deeply involved in their study.

Extracting sound from soot is no trivial pursuit, and our approaches continue to evolve as our knowledge increases and new technologies become available.

To date we have concentrated on three inventors or centers of invention. Hearing the sounds they recorded helps us more accurately interpret their intentions:

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. The inventor of sound recording made the world's first recordings of airborne sounds in Paris between 1853/4 and 1860 on a machine he called a phonautograph.

Thomas Edison, Charles Batchelor, and the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad. In the summer of 1878 the inventor of the phonograph and his assistant recorded noises emanating from Manhattan's newest conveyance.

The Volta Laboratory Associates. Funded by Alexander Graham Bell and directed by Charles Sumner Tainter, this research and development concern conducted sound recording and playback experiments in Washington DC in the 1880s.

We have also had fun with other early recordings.

First Sounds makes its work available under a Creative Commons Attribution (BY) license.

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