More on the Phonautograph

June 1, 2009

In case you haven't yet heard, the version of the "Au Clair de la Lune" phonautogram my First Sounds colleagues and I released to the world in March 2008 turns out to have been played back at twice the speed at which it was originally recorded. What we thought was the voice of a young girl was really a "chipmunk effect"—played here after two other examples at the same speed for comparison:   . Here it is at what we now believe to be the correct speed:   . When I imitated the new version during a trip to Paris in April, the response I got was: "Ah! That's how we sing 'Au Clair de la Lune' as a lullaby!" So we may have to give up our romantic notion of Scott recording the voice of his young daughter, but in return we may have a record of the way he sang his children to sleep.

Even so, the new version of "Au Clair" lacks the audible charm our initial playback had. Fortunately, another recently educed phonautogram makes up for it: Scott's last known phonautogram, an exuberant rendition of "Vole, Petite Abeille" ("Fly, Little Bee"):   . This is one of two 1860 phonautograms played back so far using my "optical film sound track" method. The other is a recitation in Italian of the opening lines of Torquato Tasso's pastoral drama Aminta . . : "Chi crederia che sotto forme umane e sotto queste pastorali spoglie fosse nascosto un Dio? Non mica un...." Scott writes at the bottom of this sheet: "I was wrong; it should be umane forme." By taking responsibility for the mistake, Scott indirectly identifies himself as the speaker here and, in all likelihood, in other phonautograms as well.

Find out more about these latest discoveries at



Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville
(Phono-Gazette, May 1, 1905)

Original content copyright © 2009, Patrick Feaster.