[A]t 150 years old, this particular rendition of ‘Au clair de la lune’ – recorded on a phonautograph, a device created by Édouard-Léon Scott two decades before Edison’s 1877 invention of the phonograph – became the oldest known recorded sound.
Not only that, but super interestingly:
Feaster [a hunter of ancient sounds] has been lifting the veils off of still older “recordings,” if Scott’s phonautograms even deserve the name. The device Scott patented in 1857 uses a stylus to trace a line onto a soot-covered cylinder, producing a visual representation of the sound unplayable by any device, contemporary or modern. But Feaster and his sound-chasing co-hobbyists, who style themselves the First Sounds Collaborative, adapted software to reconstruct the path of the stylus by analyzing images of the sooty trace. As if pulling an earthquake out of the readout from a seismograph, Feaster educes whatever sound is represented by the path of the stylus, playing the trace like any sound wave.
While Feaster is a hunter of sounds stored in recordings, more interestingly, he is a capturist of new reactions:
“I like to think of these [recordings] as the very earliest examples of a new way to use media. Until the phonograph, there wasn’t any equipment out there that was designed to record a person speaking, acting, doing something, and then reproduce that somewhere else,” Feaster said. “Now we take that for granted with television, movies, radio – but they all came after the phonograph.”
Like those letters you wrote to your future self from camp or related apps and services, Feaster is an archivist of the expressions and interactions with tools and devices of future-facing tools. In the past. Unveiled in the present.