Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dip your Toe in the Past

Back in March, researchers at Berkeley National Laboratory were able to play a cylinder originally made for a phonautograph (see drawing). It is a recording made in Paris of a woman singing the first phrase of “Au Clair de la Lune.” The phonautograph’s original purpose was to act like a dictation machine, where after speaking into the machine, a secretary could look at the marks made on the cylinder, and write out the words.

This would not be a terribly impressive achievement, but the recording was made in April 1860. Not only is that 20 years before Edison’s machine, but think what life was like back then. There was still slavery; Lincoln hadn’t been elected yet; the dome of the U.S. Capitol wasn’t finished yet, nor was the Washington Monument; some of my family was still back in Germany, tenant-farming, since less than 20 years before they’d been serfs.

So click on the link below and read the article. Click on first mp3 file you see, and listen to that woman, long dead, sing eight bars of the song. It’s ghostly, and wonderful.

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