Almost exactly one year ago, the world’s music-history textbooks simultaneously fell out of date, after reports emerged questioning Thomas Edison’s status as the father of recorded music. Sure enough, researchers confirmed that an obscure French printer named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville managed to make a ten-second recording nearly two decades before the invention of Edison’s phonograph. However, Scott’s device, known as a phonautograph, came with a severe limitation: although it could accurately etch sound waves onto paper, there was no way to play back the squiggles.
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Last year, a team of scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory employed sophisticated optical imaging technology to “read” Scott’s phonautograms, producing a ghostly facsimile of the original recording. The snippet captures a single voice singing just a few seconds of the classic French folksong, “Au Clair de la Lune” — an appropriate companion to Edison’s first attempt, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Inspired by the audio reconstruction of Scott’s recording, Canadian avant-garde label Infrequency challenged several composers from five different countries to create new works in response to the ten-second clip. Ranging from a “cover” of the folksong itself, to a focused exploration of the recording’s ambient sound properties, the compilation’s nine cuts produce startling points of contact between the origin of recorded sound and the frontier of new music.
In addition, the label has curated a fan-submitted selection of tracks on the same theme. Click here for the free, full-length download.