Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Earliest Known Recorded Music in Existence

Yep, only three known copies of this Edison wax cylinder from 1888 exist, which would certainly make this one of the most historically prized recordings ever.  But it's also a good listen. 

The "song" heard here is an excerpt from classical composer Handel's "Israel In Egypt" sung by, to quote a note on the cylinder: "A chorus of 4000 voices recorded with phonograph over 100 yards away." Conducted by August Manns; recorded by Col. George Gouraud, foreign sales agent for Thomas Edison at the Crystal Palace, London, England, June 29, 1888.

A hundred yards away?!  At first I thought: 'a hundred feet away', the length of a football field, but no, it says 'yards.' Dang, that's far. So what does it sound like?  Pretty avant-garde, actually - the white-noise of the cylinder whirring around melded with the huge distant choir is a strange and haunting sound, indeed. Not too far removed from something you might hear on a Zoviet France or Nurse With Wound album. Knowing that these are actual voices from the 1800s adds a ghostly mystery to the experience.

Handel festival: "Israel In Egypt" - excerpt

(Courtesy of


Anonymous said...

football field is 100 yards :/

Mr Fab said...

Oh yeah...what was I thinking..?

Math is hard.

Pierre said...

would fit well in a David Lynch movie

Woody said...

There's earlier recordings of music going back to the 1860s:

Mr Fab said...

Woody- I thought someone would mention that! The recording you're referring to is only 10 sceonds long, you can barely hear anything (not that you can hear a whole lot on this one, either) and, from what I understand, wasn't an existing recording like the Edison cylander that you could just pop in and play, but the result of alot of scientific restoration. But some still call it "the earliest recording." Could go either way, I suppose.

PurpleMixTape said...

Thank you for sharing this! I'm fascinated by this recording. :)