Sounds of ghosts, circa 1860: World's oldest recorded sound played back

Listen carefully to the oldest sound ever recorded. The year is 1860, and a woman is singing “Au Clair de la Lune” into a barrel-shaped horn, which causes etchings to be inscribed on a soot-blackened piece of paper. Called a phonautogram, it’s one spooky blast from the past. Listen to it. Its ghostly sound is eerie to be sure, but it's recognizable as that old song that was a hit before your great-great-grandmother was born.

They had no idea how to play back such things in those days, but we do now, using optical imaging and a “virtual stylus” developed by U.S. audio historian David Giovannoni. The inventor of the ancient (and first) recording process, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, was understandably angry at all the attention given to Thomas Edison, who got credit for making the first audio recording 17 years later.

International Herald Tribune, via Neatorama