A group of researchers has succeeded in playing a sound recording of a human voice made in 1860 – 17 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.
Roughly ten seconds in length, the recording is of a person singing “Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit” – a snippet from a French folksong. It was made on April 9,1860 by Parisian inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville on his “phonautograph” – a device that scratched sound waves onto a sheet of paper blackened by the smoke of an oil lamp...
The essence of the Berkeley technology, which was developed in collaboration with the Library of Congress, is to apply non-contact digital imaging to any material containing a recorded “groove”. The imaging results in a digital representation of the record which can then be played on the computer with a virtual stylus. Being non-contact, the technology protects delicate samples from further damage or degradation. This approach has been used successfully on many phonograph discs and cylinders,and its application to the phonautograph recording was a straightforward extension. It is novel however that the phonautograph recordings were never meant to be played.