The first ever audio recording we know of was made by Éduoard-Léon Scott in 1857. As Maggie has previously posted here, the recording device he invented, the phonautograph, etched sound waves to paper. They weren't intended to be "played back" and it wasn't until 2008 when researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used a scanner and "virtual stylus" to listen to the sounds inscribed on the paper. It was a recording of a tuning fork and someone, likely Scott, singing Au Clair de la Lune.
I listened to it over and over this morning and was trying to imagine a time when there was no recording, and every sound was temporary. That led me to what appears to be a fascinating book from 2009, titled "Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music" by Greg Milner. The opening paragraph is fantastic:
The story goes that, late in his life, Guglielmo Marconi had an epiphany. The godfather of radio technology decided that no sound ever dies. It just decays beyond the point that we can detect it with our ears. Any sound was forever recoverable, he believed, with the right device. His dream was to build one powerful enough to pick up Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
For more about the Éduoard-Léon Scott project, visit FirstSounds.org