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In French


Feb. 2nd, 2012

The Archeophone gives Otto von Bismarck
and Helmuth von Moltke their voices back


Abstract : The publications of very early sound archives have been on the increase for the last few years. Many of them have involved advanced technologies, but the voice of Bismarck has been brought back to life with the use of the Archeophone phonograph, a French invention which has already allowed the rediscovery of the sounds of thousands of wax cylinders. The recent craze of researchers for these sounds of the past lies in their symbolic value : they are the first witnesses of the dawn of our information age. The rise in museum projects throughout the world stems from this awareness. A sound museum is for that matter about to open soon in Paris.

- The oldest recorded voices revived at last

- The technical means implemented

- A growing interest in the matter

- The setting up of new sound history museums

- Links to the oldest recorded sounds online


The oldest recorded voices revived at last

The recent explosion of discoveries of early recorded sound in archives is still booming in the USA with a third important digitization campaign. After the spectacular sound revival of the phonautograms recorded from 1857 to 1860 in France by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (2008-2009), after the audio rendition of sound experiments engraved on flat discs from 1881 to 1885 at the Volta Laboratory, and preserved at the Smithonian Institution (December 2011), the audio reproduction of the voices of von Bismarck and von Moltke on Edison cylinders is now for everyone to hear since the end of February 2012. The transfers of these two historical sound documents have been made recently on a French invention, the Archeophone, a universal player for phonographic cylinders.

In October 1889, Theodor Edward Wangemann recorded the voices of Otto von Bismarck and Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, then aged 74 and 89 respectively. These cylinders, forgotten for a long time in the vast premises of the Edison laboratories, now the Edison National Historic Site, in West Orange, New Jersey, have been located, read and digitized. The soundtracks can be heard here on ENHS website and also on the New York Times related article.

These three digitization campaigns on venerable sounds of historical value have been made by American crews. The first two by Dr. Patrick Feaster and his colleagues at First Sounds and the third by Jerry Fabris, curator at West Orange, with the Archeophone phonograph and the help of two experts in audio history : Dr. Patrick Feaster (Indiana University – First Sounds) and Stephan Puille (Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin).


The technical means implemented

But while the sounds from Scott de Martinville phonautograms and those from the Volta Laboratory discs have been revived through advanced technologies, the voices from Moltke and Bismarck have been brought back to life with the means of a French invention, the Archeophone, which is an analogic cylinder turntable used in the largest archives in the world. For years the Archeophone has made the transfer of thousands of cylinders possible, and this in many archives. Optical technologies involving scanners, computers and specially developed software apply perfectly to flat documents such as Scott de Martinville's or any other records which consist essentially of a permanent depth groove (named "lateral cut"). But they have not yet proved to work when reproducing sound from cylinders, the main reason being the groove of the cylinder which is different : it is in variable depth, named "vertical cut" or "hill and dale". As a consequence, analogic turntables such as the Archeophone phonograph are still considered today as the most appropriate devices for the play back of cylinders, despite the numerous attempts for playing them with optical systems.


A growing interest in the matter

The multiplication of these sensational discoveries does not rely on the recent progress in optical technologies only. More certainly it is due to a growing interest from historical researchers in a matter which affects deeply our everyday life. These early recordings are indeed the first witnesses of the dawn of the information age, which was induced by the emergence of the communication technologies 125 years or so ago. These technologies were developed by inventors who struggled to deposit patents and secure their works, giving us the telephone, the phonograph, the cinema, and the radio : the art of signal reproduction in general.


The setting up of new sound museums

The increasing number of museum projects which depict this technical, industrial and social history, seems a logical and expected response to this trend :

- Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner, Montreal : - Built on the remains of the industrial complex founded by Emile Berliner, father of the recording industry, this museum is expanding dramatically.

- EMI Group Archive trust, Hayes, Middlesex : - This organization works on one of the largest collection of commercial records of the 1877-1946 period "[...] to foster and promote the study and appreciation of the art techniques and development of sound recording and the history of the sound recording industry".

- Musée du son enregistré, Paris (Museum of Recorded Sound) - A project undertaken by the Phonoplanète Association and promoted by public and private institutions. This project will gather the private collection - unrivaled in Europe - of la Phonogalerie - - assembling some of the most beautiful and rare talking machines with many related documents, records, cylinders, posters, and a resource center.


Henri Chamoux, expert auprès de la Direction du patrimoine et de l'architecture.




Links to the oldest sounds online  :

Bismarck and Moltke

- Listen to Bismarck and Moltke, on the New York Times website :
- Here are the source files with a historical development in English and a transcription of the recorded voices

Other Edison cylinders of historical value

Listen to The 1888 Crystal Palace recordings (Israel in Egypt - Haendel Festival - June 1888) :
The Julius Block cylinders and
Johannes Brahms at the Lindström Recording Studio

Léon Scott de Martinville

Listen to Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville's voice (the earliest recordings ever 1857 to 1860) – First Sounds :

Disc records at the Smithonian Institution's National Museum of American History

- Listen to Chichester Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter's experimental recordings at the Volta Laboratory (on discs recorded from 1881 to 1885) :
- The oldest disc record ever (or almost the oldest) (Nov 8, 1881) at the Smithonian Institution :
- The other discs from the Volta laboratory at the Smithonian Institution :

Paleospectrophony and Optical Sound Track Method

- Phonozoic - dedicated to the history of the phonograph and related media
- Play your vinyls on the ELP Laser turntable - new analog music with no contact

Works in France on the history of early recorded sounds

- Musée du son enregistré, project driven by the Association Phonoplanète :
-, a site dédicated to the cylinder phonograph and its inventors :
- Phonobase : 7000 cylinder and disc commercial recordings made between 1893 and 1914 :
- L'Archéophone, a universal player for wax cylinder records :



One of the most beautiful collections in Europe soon on display in a museum


The Archeophone phonograph


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