If audio is recorded without the intention of being listened to, is it still a recording? American researchers in Paris are getting philosophical about a piece of etched paper they found which may contain the first ever piece of recorded audio.
The soot-blackened paper was etched in 1860 by a machine called a phonautograph, a full 17 years before Thomas Edison recorded "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on a tin foil cylinder, which was, until this month, considered to be the first audio recording in history.
Eduouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, the inventor of the phonautograph, never intended for the scribbles of his "barrel shaped horn attached to a stylus" to be listened to - they were only to be looked at, according to The New York Times. Scott didn't have the tools to play back his etchings anyhow.
But today, we do. Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley Lab created a virtual stylus that interpreted high resolution scans of the phonautogram and turned it into sound. Take a listen.
The 10-second recording of "Au Clair de la Lune" is murky and eerie, but it is definitely a human voice. Does Scott's historical accident of sound constitute a theft of Edison's legacy? -Rachel Rosmarin