The Oldest Known Recording, Restored in the Digital Age
Hearing the voices of dead people might make you feel a little odd, but give this a listen.
In 1878, writer Thomas Mason sat down in front of one of Thomas Edison’s just-invented phonograph recorders, and captured himself playing cornet, laughing, and even the first recorded screw-up (trying to read a line from “Old Mother Hubbard”.
According to writings, Edison had recorded himself the year before, just after he invented the device, reading “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. This recording has since disappeared, making Mason’s the oldest known playable copy.
Except it wasn’t really “playable”. The metallic drum had deteriorated so badly that it couldn’t be played mechanically, so Lawrence Berkeley scientists had to develop a way to digitally scan the grooves and convert them into real sound.
Check out Rebecca J. Rosen’s article at The Atlantic to find out more about the history of this recording and to hear more samples, and check out the research project’s site to find out how they did it. So. Cool.
It’s nice to know that, for as long as people have been laying sound to records, they’ve been messing up. No one’s perfect, even the pioneers of sound! At least we can laugh with them, right along with the recording.