Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Entertainment

October 26, 2012

Soundtrack to history: 1878 Edison audio unveiled

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (AP) — It's scratchy, lasts only 78 seconds and features the world's first recorded blooper.

The modern masses can now listen to what experts say is the oldest playable recording of an American voice and the first-ever capturing of a musical performance, thanks to digital advances that allowed the sound to be transferred from flimsy tinfoil to computer.

The recording was originally made on a Thomas Edison-invented phonograph in St. Louis in 1878.

At a time when music lovers can carry thousands of digital songs on a player the size of a pack of gum, Edison's tinfoil playback seems prehistoric. But that dinosaur opens a key window into the development of recorded sound.

"In the history of recorded sound that's still playable, this is about as far back as we can go," said John Schneiter, a trustee at the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady, where it was played Thursday night in the city where Edison helped found the General Electric Co.

The recording opens with a 23-second cornet solo of an unidentified song, followed by a man's voice reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Old Mother Hubbard." The man laughs at two spots during the recording, including at the end, when he recites the wrong words in the second nursery rhyme.

"Look at me; I don't know the song," he says.

When the recording was played using modern technology during a presentation Thursday at a nearby theater, it was likely the first time it had been played at a public event since it was created during an Edison phonograph demonstration held June 22, 1878, in St. Louis, museum officials said.

The recording was made on a sheet of tinfoil, 5 inches wide by 15 inches long, placed on the cylinder of the phonograph Edison invented in 1877 and began selling the following year.

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