Saturday, 12 September 2009

Dust to Digital

Au Clair de la Lune from Dust-to-Digital on Vimeo.

I featured this before when it was first discovered, but now there it has been released on vinyl by Dust-to-Digital. Basically; it's the earliest recording of the human voice ever made. It was made by Éduoard-Léon Scott de Martinville using a phonautogram - basically a one way microphone, and it was literally engraved into dust on a piece of paper, with no real way of replaying the sound. What has now been done is that the image of the sound has been scanned, and then reconstituted into sound. It's funny, because when it was first replayed, they got the speed very wrong and thought it was a recording of a peasant woman, when in fact it was Éduoard-Léon recording himself.

It does bother me, though, that there's no real information on exactly what programme was used to rebuild the sound. There are numerous bits of software such as coagula or metasynth which allow you to generate sound from an image, and I'm suspicious that this is all that they've done, which would make the resulting sound a very tenuous recreation of the original (even on a good day, if you take a sound, store its spectrogram and then input that back into the image-synth, the decay is substantial...) Basically, to call it the earliest recorded music is to be highly dismissive of this, something I've also featured before:

At the Crystal Palace they used to hold a triennial 'Handel Festival', with around 700 musicians, and 3,000 singers, and an audience of 20,000, and in 1888 this was recorded for the Edison company, which is the music above (note; the photograph was taken at the last festival in 1926).

If this wasn't haunto enough for you, a wee quote from the Musical Times, found in Musgrave's 'The Musical Life of the Crystal Palace' is telling. It regards the installation of a new ceiling for the concert hall, in the main transept of the palace, in order to solve the reverberatory problems of all that iron and glass:

Some of the chorsuses are no doubt heard with better effect than others; but the fogginess and uncertainty incident to the manifestations of the former festivals are wholly got rid of.

reverberations = fog and uncertainty. It's like a ghostly formula.

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