The story you may have heard about the birth of sound recording goes something like this; Thomas Edison, alone in the lab after a hard day’s work, manages to record a recital of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” onto a wax cylinder. You may have even think you have heard the recording, but you haven’t. The recording in circulation comes from a 1927 recreation for the Golden Jubilee of the Phonograph ceremony, the original being lost on a sheet of re-usable tinfoil fifty years earlier.

But it really doesn’t matter. The real start date for us is seventeen years earlier than that, on the 6th of April 1860, when French printer and bookseller Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville decided to add a tuning fork to his experiments with recording the acoustic properties of the human voice. This is what he used – his own invention, the phonoautograph

The phonoautograph was essentially an artificial ear. The barrel worked as an ear canal, a parchment membrane stretched over the end was the eardrum, then a pig bristle or piece of feather functioned as the ossicles, drawing a line of lampblack on a roll of parchment. The result looked like this:

It wasn’t intended to be played back, and it wasn’t – not for another 149 years at least. The story of how the sounds were extracted from these scraps of paper is best told by the people at firstsounds.org who made all of this possible. In 2012 PRI radio show Studio 360 ran a feature on the recovery of the audio, the extended version of which is the best possible sub-10-minute primer on the subject.


…and finally, of course, the actual mix! Consider yourself warned that this is very far indeed from easy listening. Instead of scratches we essentially have slightly tuned white noise, through which you can hear something; not enough to really make out much, but unmistakably a human voice.


mp3 download link

…and both MP3s in a single package on Mixcloud, who apparently don’t agree with 2-minute mixes


1. Diapason at 435 Hz–at sequential stages of restoration (1859 Phonautogram)
2. Au Clair de la Lune – By the Light of the Moon (April 9, 1860)
3. Excerpt from Ducis’s Othello (April 17, 1860)
4. Au Clair de la Lune – By the Light of the Moon (April 20, 1860)
5. Opening lines from Tasso’s Aminta (undated, probably April-May 1860)
6. Gamme de la Voix – Vocal Scale (May 17, 1860)
7. Jeune Jouvencelle (August 17, 1857)
8. Vole, Petite Abeille – Fly, Little Bee (September 15, 1860)
9. Vole, Petite Abeille – Fly, Little Bee (undated, probably September 1860)


2016 was, by all accounts, a bit of a rough year. In terms of music, though, it will probably be better-remembered.


0:00:00 David Bowie – Lazarus
0:03:13 Ian William Craig – Contain (Astoria Version)
0:04:26 Buz Ludzha – Basslines For Life
0:06:32 Nadia Rose – Skwod
0:09:13 Yussef Kamaal – Strings of Light
0:11:55 DJ Fresh & High Contrast ft. Dizzee Rascal – How Love Begins
0:15:33 Chance The Rapper – All Night (feat Knox Fortune)
0:17:58 Alex Anwandter – Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazon
0:20:20 Metronomy – Old Skool (Fatima Yamaha Remix)
0:24:38 Kero Kero Bonito – Waking Up
0:27:13 Frightened Rabbit – Get Out
0:29:47 Hannah Epperson – Iodine (Iris)
0:32:50 Jessy Lanza – It Means I Love You
0:35:41 Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
0:39:47 A Tribe Called Quest – We The People…
0:42:40 Mark Prichard – ?
0:45:35 Shura – What’s It Gonna Be?
0:47:56 Kaytranda – Lite Spots
0:49:03 Anna Lunoe – Radioactive
0:51:07 French Montana – Lockjaw ft. Kodak Black
0:53:59 Solange – Cranes In The Sky
0:57:28 King – The Greatest
1:00:55 Innercity Ensemble – III
1:03:03 Neiked Ft. Dyo – Sexual
1:05:23 Joey Purp Ft. Chance The Rapper – Girls
1:07:36 Graphs – Foxdie
1:09:02 Royalston, August Storm – Jungle Gone Down (Kimyan Law Remix)
1:10:25 Logistics – Icarus
1:11:40 Urbandawn – Still Breathing (feat. Keeno)
1:13:30 Rawtekk – Harbour
1:14:50 Hedvig Mollestad Trio – Approaching / On Arrival
1:15:49 Blanck Mass – D7-D5
1:19:03 Pye Corner Audio – Ganzfeld Effect
1:22:15 DUDS – No Remark
1:24:19 Beyonce – Sorry
1:28:24 Ngaiire – Diggin
1:30:30 Lindstrøm – Closing Shot
1:34:40 Anoushka Shankar – Boat To Nowhere
1:37:20 ANOHNI – Crisis
1:41:56 Autechre – Latentcall
1:43:09 Aphex Twin – CheetahT2 (Ld Spectrum)
1:45:47 Young M.A – OOOUUU
1:47:40 Julianna Barwick – Beached
1:51:45 Radiohead – Daydreaming
1:53:55 Shura – The Space Tapes
1:55:52 Christopher Tignor – The Will and the Waiting
1:57:03 Nick Cave – Distant Sky

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