Tuesday, January 26, 2021

#FreeHistorySci, Inventor of the Phonautograph


There are many forgotten scientists and inventors throughout history. The aim is to "bring to light" all the women and men who have made an important contribution to the world of science in their lifetime. Today we talk about Édouard-Léon Scott, the Inventor of the Phonautograph.

This publisher and bookseller French, heir to a great Scottish dynasty that moved to Paris in the 17th century, had the enormous fortune to be able to print, and therefore read, some of the main scientific texts of his time. This led him to become passionate about the world of inventions, so much so that he became an inventor himself.

A great expert in shorthand, one day he wondered if it was possible to imprint the spoken words on paper, without the help of writing. So began his research, until 1857, when he patented a strange contraption called fonautograph: it was a machine capable of translating the vibrations of sound into wavy lines imprinted on a rigid brislast by means of a crank cylinder. The contraption sought to mimic the functioning of an ear, replacing an elastic membrane to the eardrum and a series of levers to the ossyxies, which would have to command a stylus in order to write on paper, wood or a glass surface covered with smoke.


This great invention can certainly be considered a forerunner of that of Edison of 1877, that is, the phonograph, but unlike this the phonautograph only created visual images of the sound and did not have the ability to reproduce the recordings. It was used in several sound investigations, but had few developments.


In 2008, The New York Times reported that a phonoautogram was found on April 9, 1860. The recording was a ten-second fragment of a singer believed to be the inventor's daughter. In fact, it turned out to have been performed at twice the normal speed and probably the inventor sang the popular song French "Au Clair de la Lune". This fonautogram is today the first known documentation of the recording of music and the human voice, a 28-year precedent to Edison's well-known recording of a Handel choir from the oratory Israel in Egypt, made in 1888.

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