Phonozoic

The "Aminta" Phonautogram (1860)


First Sounds
This recording was converted into sound as part of the ongoing work of the First Sounds initiative.
The collaboration's official release may be found here, and here is an explanation of how the "playback" was accomplished.

During the spring of 1860, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville consulted with the eminent physicist Henri Victor Regnault about the phonautograph. Regnault's papers in the archives of the Institut de France contain a number of important phonautograms Scott prepared in this period. One outcome of this relationship was a new membrane design which Scott adopted in mid-April at Regnault's suggestion.

But another outcome was a phonautogram of the opening lines of Torquato Tasso's pastoral drama Aminta, preserved as plate 8 in a group of papers Scott deposited with the Académie des Sciences in July 1861 (a facsimile, transcription, and English translation of the whole deposit is available through First Sounds). Scott wrote on the phonautogram that it was a "study of the tonic accent" made at Regnault's request—which means he was interested in documenting emphasis based on changes in pitch rather than volume. The phonautogram is undated, but it most closely resembles other phonautograms known to have been recorded in April and May 1860.

The Italian text of Tasso's Aminta can be found here, and an English translation is available here. The opening lines, spoken by "Amore" ("Love"), are:

Chi crederia che sotto umane forme
e sotto queste pastorali spoglie
fosse nascosto un Dio? non mica un Dio
....
(Who would believe that under human form
and under this pastoral garb
would be found a God? not only a God....)

Scott wrote the text he recorded at the bottom of the phonautogram:

Chi crederia che sotto forme umane*
e sotto queste pastorali spoglie
fosse nascosto un Dio? non mi

As you can hear by listening along, the speaker actually gets two syllables further: "non mica un—." More noteworthy is that the order of two words (shown in boldface) is reversed. Scott included a footnote: "I was wrong—it should be 'umane forme.'" By taking responsibility for the mistake, he indirectly identifies himself as the speaker!

Listen to the Excerpt from Torquato Tasso's Aminta as recited by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville and recorded on his own invention in the year 1860: .

(Before speed correction:  .)

   

Significance

  • The only recording for which we have written evidence that Édouard-Léon Scott himself is the speaker.
  • The oldest known sound recording in the Italian language.
  • The oldest recording of declamation yet recovered with a tuning fork "time code" that allows us to correct speed fluctuations and get a sense of the original intonation.
  • The phonautogram that led to the realization that First Sounds had initially played "Au Clair de la Lune" at twice the original recording speed.
  • At the time of eduction, the oldest audible example of identifiable spoken language of any kind.

Henri Victor Regnault
Henri Victor Regnault


Leon Scott
Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville

 

 
 

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Original content copyright © 2009, Patrick Feaster.