Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dust to Digital - earliest recorded voice?

The Cargo records UK blog had this great post about a crazy 45 from Dust to Digital Records. Dust to Digital looks like an amazing label, they have really elaborate wood crate CD box sets of field recordings, home recorded farmers, shape note singing (?), blues...but not on vinyl unfortunately, except for this single...which really is one of those crazy things, like the Hot Lixx air guitar single, really an art piece, a story that you frag out and play for friends of friends who want to hear a seven inch.
It seems like this is all about the packaging and the story, and it's some story. Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville created an 'Au Clair phonautogram' Basically it functions like an edison cylinder, and was blackened by oil lamp smoke. He then attached a needle to the end of a diaphragm/horn thing, talked into the horn and the waves were converted into vibrations in the smoke (!) that then could be played back (!!). This is 20 seconds of that historic recording.
They went all out on the inserts for the 7" too there's a three-panel sleeve that folds out to 21 inches long with a complete reproduction of the Au Clair phonautogram itself, there's an etching on the reverse side of the vinyl and all kinds of other catalog stuff.

A couple of things...why is it weird to see an old newsreel and think 'every one of these people are dead now', and why is that the first thing I think of?...That this is some kind of ghost, did it freak people out in 1860? Could they even understand what was happening? Did they run from the room shouting witchcraft? Then I start thinking about Evil Dead II, and they play that reel to reel that summons the devil mess that kills everyone...can recorded sound function the same as speaking it? Can dogs recognize commands from recordings? If the demon summing lines existed on the magnetic tape, why would it matter if you even had to play it out loud?'s there isn't it? What if Steven Hawkings read the book out loud? Would the demons conjur up as some kind of robot? Or would they just ignore it? It's probably all in the pronunciation.
One more thing...I remember watching on an old 'In Search Of' or just reading a book about weird shit from the elementary school library a million years ago that always stuck with me.. that someone had 'played' a clay pot? That basically the pottery wheel was the rotating cylinder and people talking would transfer vocal vibrations on to the clay through straw etc. I always wanted to have a laser device that would rotate around the pot to play it, in a futuristic lab. I imagined you would hear like people talking in some weird ancient voices and horses, carts, kids...and that's it. But it probably doesn't work that way. If at all, you dummy.
Good idea though.

Congradulations Mr de Martinville and D2D, you are creators of the oldest 7" single, not a feat anyone will be challenging soon. It's impressive....and slightly insane.
That's a recipe for genius.

Get it from Dust to Digital Records.

Weirdo records also has it also...with probably more reasonable shipping.
Scott de Martinville, Edouard Leon ~ Au Clair de la Lune
Parolortone/Dust to Digital ~ $8.00
one sided 7 inch 2009/1860 new
Most art acquisition is not dependent upon 20th century technological progress in the way that record collecting is. So here's a lovely way to celebrate it's unique charms. The Phonautogram was a French invention which recorded sound on a paper-wrapped cylinder. The paper was removed from the cylinder and dipped in alcohol, like you would do in a photography darkroom. Last year a team of researchers discovered the paper, scanned it, & used a computer to extract the sound. They successfully pushed back the date of the first recorded sound 17 years. It was thought at the time that the voice singing 'Au Clair de la Lune' was a woman's, but further reading of the inventors notes supports the idea that it's the inventor himself, Edouard Leon Scott de Martinville. Beautifully designed package (by Rob Millis, of Climax Golden Twins), that shows you the smoked paper, the patent notes, and a drawing of the phonautogram recording device. 20 seconds long.

1 comment: