NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1857 __ Phonautographie de la voix humaine à distance
Leon Scott de Martinville (1817-1879)
Comment : Scott de Martinville identified the sheet of phonautograms he deposited with the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle in 1857 as documenting "the human voice at a distance." (Phonautographie de la voix humaine à distance). Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville recorded someone singing an excerpt from the French folksong "Au Clair de la Lune" on April 9, 1860, and deposited the results with the Academie des Sciences in Paris in 1861 (16 years before Thomas Edison invention of the phonograph). Four years earlier, in 1857, he deposited with the Institut National de la Propriete Industrielle as documenting "Phonautographie de la voix humaine a distance (the human voice at a distance)", the first sound ever recorded. Two brief excerpts from two different records on this sheet are the earliest traces of his work played back to date, but his recording methods were not yet sophisticated enough at this time to yield audibly recognizable results. Scott attached another phonautogram to the "certificate of addition" he deposited with the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle in 1859. We believe it to be a record made by a tuning fork vibrating at 435 Hz, then just adopted as the official French reference pitch. This is the oldest recognizable sound yet reproduced. Scott recorded someone singing an excerpt from the French folksong "Au Clair de la Lune" on April 9, 1860, and deposited the results with the Académie des Sciences in 1861. The existence of a tuning-fork calibration trace allows us to compensate for the irregular recording speed of the hand-cranked cylinder. The sheet contains the beginning line of the second verse- "Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit"- and is the earliest audibly recognizable record of the human voice yet recovered.Although Scott claims he had the idea for the phonautograph in 1853 or 1854, he first went on record in January 1857 by depositing this document in a sealed packet with the French Academy of Sciences. In it, he spells out his plan to record sound waves on lampblacked glass plates using a mechanism based on the human ear: a funnel, two membranes separated by an airtight space, and a stylus attached to the second membrane. At the end of the document Scott has attached two plates of phonautograms "dating back three years," supposedly his very first experiments. In March 1857, Scott deposited the paperwork for a patent on the phonautograph -- the same basic design described in the Principes de Phonautographie, but now laid out in greater detail with drawings and a sample phonautogram. In July 1859, he filed a certificate of addition describing a new configuration with a paper wrapped around a hand-cranked cylinder instead of a plate of glass, one membrane instead of two, and a tuning fork or chronometer attachment to record time-illustrated by yet another phonautogram. Scott gave this talk in October 1857 before the Société d'Encouragement, which had funded his first phonautograph patent. Because he is addressing a general audience, he goes into less technical detail than he does in his sealed packet or his patent paperwork, focusing instead on the theory underlying his work. Note, for example, his discussion of the importance of placing the membrane at an angle to pick up what he calls "waves of inflection.". (Compiled from various sources)The invention of the alphabet, or writing, as a setting down of words, was a first step towards a recorded memorising of sounds. Another step was taken with the invention of neums. These signs, whose origins go back to ancient Greek prosody, and which were principally used for the notation of Gregorian chant between the 8th and the 14th century, indicated the articulations and inflections of volume during recitals. They are the precursors of the curves that indicate the frequencies of a sound that we find on the sonograms of the 20th century. We could draw a parallel between neumatic notation and the first experiences of the transcription of a sound on a sheet of paper by Léon Scott de Martinville in 1857, by means of his "Phonautograph". The purpose of this machine was to reproduce the mechanism of the human ear through a membrane equipped with a stylus inscribing the imprint of acoustic vibrations onto a layer of charcoal. This was to be the first transduction (transformation from one physical form into another) made from the acoustic domain into a medium capable of conserving an acoustic phenomenon. (Yannick Dauby)
French comment : On doit à M. Scott de Martinville l’idée première d’employer les membranes comme intermédiares pour l’inscription des sons transmis par l’air. L’appareil présenté à la Société d’Encouragement, en 1857, a reçu le nom de phonautographe. Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville avait déposé deux plis cachetés à l’Académie des sciences : le premier intitulé "Principes de phonautographie" le 26 janvier 1857 qui comprend sept pages et huit grands tableaux graphiques et avait été ouvert, à la demande de l’auteur, le 15 juillet 1861; le deuxième intitulé "Graphie du son" déposé le 27 juillet 1857 a été ouvert par la Commission des plis cachetés le 9 mai 1985.Émile Gautier, dans un ouvrage publié en 1905 (le Phonographe, son passé, son présent, soit avenir) a retracé de manière parfaite les antécédents scientifiques du phonographe. Ce sont d'abord les efforts du physicien anglais Thomas Young qui réussit (en 1807) à enregistrer les vibrations acoustiques des corps sonores ; puis les expériences de Duhamel, qui compare le tracé obtenu par Young au tracé donné par une corde vibrante dont on connaît le nombre de vibrations dans un temps donné ; celles de Wertheim, qui remplace la corde de Duhamel par un diapason ; les expériences de Lissajoux, qui provoque électriquement les vibrations du diapason de Wertheim ; les expériences de Léon Scott, cet ouvrier typographe qui, en 1857, invente la « phonautographie » (autographie des sons). (Pierre Monnot, Larousse mensuel illustré, Décembre 1929)Léon Scott prit même un brevet pour la construction de son appareil, composé d'une conque acoustique propre à conduire et à condenser les vibrations, d'un tympan de baudruche anglaise très mince, doublé à peu de distance d'une membrane externe, elle-même reliée à un style inscripteur, et d'une table de cristal mobile couverte de noir de fumée. Mais la découverte, présentée à l'Académie des Sciences, fut accueillie avec scepticisme. Scott, à bout de ressources, ne put continuer ses recherches. Oublié de tous, il mourut en 1879, un an après l'apparition du premier phonographe. (Compiled from various sources)
Original excerpt 1 : « [...] to achieve for sound a result analogous to that attained presently for light by photography ? Can one hope that the day is near when the musical phrase escaping from the lips of the singer will come to write itself [...] on an obedient page and leave an imperishable trace of those fugitive melodies that he memory no longer recalls by the time that it searches for them ? Between two men joined in a quiet room, could one place an automatic stenographer that preserves the conversation in its most minute details. [...] Could one conserve for future generations some traits of diction of our eminent actors, who now die without leaving after them the feeblest trace of their genius ? The improvisation of the writer, when she rises in the middle of the night, could she recall the day after with all her freedom, that complete independence of the pen so slow to translate an ever-fading thought on her struggle with the written expression ?.Appreciating, as one must, the importance of a communication to the Academy, I had intended to submit to it only later and after having very maturely worked out the final results of the discovery on which I have been working since 1853. But I learn that a foreign scientist, aided by a manufacturer of apparatuses, has presented to you the automatic inscription of vibratory movements of one of the apparatuses of the middle ear of a freshly decapitated dog. It will be permitted me to point out that this experiment, as well as other less recent attempts which I sincerely applauded, are all based on the mother-idea to which I devoted so many sleepless nights and sacrifices and of which the flexible stylus applied to a membrane.of which I am the inventor.still remains the radical means. It is in order that there cannot be the slightest doubt on this subject that I ask the Academy to be so kind as to proceed to the opening of the sealed packet which I deposited on 26 January 1857 with the Secretariat of the Academy. [...] According to my experiments, the ear does not repeat sounds, as so many physiologists or pathologists believe; it does nothing but conduct the vibratory motions which it is its mission to concentrate, attenuating certain tones that are too strong, amplifying other sounds that are too weak. The external auditory canal is above all an apparatus for concentrating and tranquillizing the strata of the vibrating air which, in the vicinity of the membranous partition called the tympanum, must be in a dormant state. The concamerations of this conduit defilade the vicinity of this membrane from the least flow of air engaged in the external opening. The tilted position of the membrane relative to the axis of the conduit is essential to the good communication of noises. The membrane is the sound waves’ only path. Since any portion of agitation transmitted to the walls of the conduit is lost for the membrane, it is necessary that the conduit be, as much as possible, unsuitable for vibrating. [...] Phonometry not yet existing, one had not realized the enormous difference in amplitude that exists between musical vibrations, such as those of the trumpet, the song of the voice, etc., and hissings and noises, such as rustlings, certain vocal articulations, etc. To amplify the latter and attenuate the former, nature is served by acoustic contrivances. The principal means of this kind of compensation is the chain of the ossicles. This chain, which I present artificially built, is an apparatus for tautening the membranes and conducting by way of a solid; it is an arc at once flexible and bent which, by its tautening, produced by two opposed muscles, the one of the hammer, the other of the stirrup, effects at both its ends a pull on the membranes of the tympanum and of the oval window, in bending themselves. A membrane which is not thus pulled towards its center traces its motion only imperfectly and goes crazy under the influence of the pitch peculiar to the conduit. [...] » (Édouard-Léon Scott’s 1861 talk before the French Academy of Sciences)
Original excerpt 2 : « Appréciant, comme on le doit, l’importance d’une communication à l’Académie, je m’étais proposé de ne lui soumettre que plus tard et après les avoir très-mûrement élaborés les derniers résultats de la découverte à laquelle je travaille depuis 1853. Mais j’apprends qu’un savant étranger, aidé d’un constructeur d’appareils, vous a présenté l’inscription automatique de mouvements vibratoires de l’un des appareils de l’oreille moyenne d’un chien fraîchement décapité. Me sera-t-il permis de faire observer que cette expérience, ainsi que d’autres8 tentatives moins récentes auxquelles j’applaudis sincèrement, reposent toutes sur l’idée mère à laquelle j’ai consacré tant de veilles et de sacrifices et dont le style flexible, appliqué sur une membrane, dont je suis l’inventeur, demeure encore le moyen radical. C’est afin qu’il ne puisse y avoir à ce sujet le moindre doute que je prie l’Académie de vouloir bien procéder à l’ouverture du paquet cacheté que j’ai déposé le 26 janvier 1857 au Secrétariat de l’Académie. D’après mes expériences, l’oreille ne répète pas les sons, comme tant de physiologistes ou de pathologistes le croient, elle ne fait que conduire les mouvements vibratoires qu’elle a pour mission de concentrer en atténuant certains tons trop forts, en amplifiant d’autres sons trop faibles. Le conduit auditif externe est surtout un appareil de concentration et de tranquillisation des couches de l’air vibrant, qui, au voisinage de la cloison membraneuse appelée tympan, doit être à l’état dormant. Les concamérations de ce conduit défilent le voisinage de cette membrane des moindres filets d’air engagés dans l’orifice extérieur. La position inclinée de la membrane, par rapport à l’axe du conduit, est indispensable à la bonne communication des bruits. La membrane est le seul chemin des ondes sonores. Toute part d’ébranlement transmise aux parois du conduit étant perdue pour la membrane, il faut que le conduit soit, autant que possible, impropre à vibrer. [...] La phonométrie n’existant pas encore, on ne s’était pas aperçu de l’énorme différence d’amplitude qui existe entre les vibrations musicales, telles que celles de la trompette, du chant de la voix, etc., et les sifflements et les bruits, tels que les frôlements, certaines articulations vocales, etc. Pour amplifier ceux-ci et atténuer ceux-là, la nature s’est servie d’artifices acoustiques. Le moyen principal de cette espèce de compensation, c’est la chaîne des osselets. Cette chaîne, que je présente artificiellement construite, est un appareil de tension des membranes et de conduction par voie de solide; c’est un arc à la fois flexible et bandé qui, par sa tension, produite par deux muscles antagonistes l’un du marteau, l’autre de l’étrier, opère à ses deux extrémités un tirage sur les membranes du tympan et de la fenêtre ovale, en les bandant elles-mêmes. Une membrane qui n’est point ainsi tirée vers son centre ne trace qu’imparfaitement son mouvement et s’affolle sous l’influence du ton propre au conduit. [...] » (Édouard-Léon Scott’s 1861 talk before the French Academy of Sciences)
Source : Dauby, Yannick (2007), “SOUNDSCAPE, UMWELT & THE PRACTICE OF PHONOGRAPHY”, Extracted from a seminar held at Taipei Artist Village, Taipei, Taiwan between Sept 2007 and Feb 2008, translated from French by Patrick McGinley.
Source : Scott De Martinville, Édouard L. (1878), "Le problème de la parole s'écrivant elle-même", Paris , Mai 1878.
Source : Scott De Martinville, Édouard L. (1857), "Principes de Phonoautographie", In "L'écriture acoustique", Sealed. Letter No. 1639 to Académie des Sciences, Paris, dated. 26 January. 1857. 7pp.
Urls : http://www.firstsounds.org/sounds/ (last visited ) http://members.lycos.co.uk/MikePenney/leonscott.htm (last visited ) http://www.firstsounds.org/features/scott.php (last visited ) http://kalerne.net/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=159&Itemid=48 (last visited ) http://www.academie-sciences.fr/archives/actu_phono.htm (last visited ) http://www.wolfgang-pfaller.de/Phonautograph.pdf (last visited ) http://www.firstsounds.org/public/First-Sounds-Working-Paper-03.pdf (last visited )

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