Speech Synthesis Audio Samples and History

In 1999 Sami Lemmetty produced a Review of Speech Synthesis Technology for his Master’s Thesis. The project encompasses a range of speech synthesis areas, investigating many methods, techniques, applications and products.

The work also provides links to audio demonstrations of speech synthesis products through history as seen below. I came upon this body of work via a post at Xblog: Sound Design. I would like to thank the above people for providing a point of embarkation leading to a sometimes overlooked dimension of electronic music production, the human voice.

Speech Synthesis Sound Samples

Early Voice Synthesis Techniques used in Music and Film Productions

The resources listed here are in no particular order and by no means form a definitive list on the subject. The main purpose is to highlight examples of how the sound of electronic voice manipulations has captured the minds of generations through a variety of mediums. Most of the artists and technologies mentioned here are products of the analogue age. The efforts made by these people in order to realise their ambitions is extraodinary.

The Sonovox

  • Sparky’s Magic Piano is a famous children’s recording from the 1940s and 50s on 78rpm records. The producers used a device called the Sonovox to blend voice and piano. The Sonovox was invented by Gilbert Wright. You can hear audio samples at the above link and learn more about the story of Sparky’s Magic Piano via this thread at Magle International Music Forums.
  • WGH Virginia Radio used the Sonovox on early jingles as did many other radio stations down the years. You can download the WGH jingles at the above link. WGH is now ESPN Radio 1310. Here’s a picture of the device held up to a singer’s neck: Image.

Ring Modulation

"The robotic voices of the Daleks in Doctor Who were created using a simple device known as a ring modulator. This was originally made in a small metal box, containing two audio transformers and a quartet of semiconductor diodes. Speech was applied to its input whilst a second signal, usually fixed at 30 Hz or lower and provided by an external oscillator, was connected to its ‘carrier’ input. The more sophisticated ring modulators available in later years didn’t sound as good as these early devices, simply because they couldn’t produce such useful levels of distortion!".
Of course it’s the performance of the vocalist that injects all the menace into the final sound. See Dalek Voices and voice artistes for sampled audio comparisons. More Dalek samples can be found at The Daleks WAV archive and Dr Who WAVs. Further  Doctor Who and Radiophonic Workshop resources appear below.

Spectrum Follower or Vocoder

Wendy answers questions about vocoders in this article which also provides a short history of the vocoder; Vocoder Questions.
Wendy made the classic synthesizer album Switched on Bach (1968) which won 3 Grammy awards and stayed on the classical music charts for more than 300 weeks. You can listen to samples of Wendy’s music via her Discography.

Talk Box or Voice Box

  • Bob Heil’s Talk Box is a loudspeaker driver system with a vinyl tube that takes the sound of the speaker into the mouth of the performer, who then plays guitar riffs while using vowel sounds to modulate the frequencies supplied by the driver into a microphone. Popularised by guitarists including Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton, it is primarily a musical tool. There’s a list of songs that feature it at Rhapsody Radish.
You can find interesting information on the Talk Box and Sonovox along with links to sound files at Can you make your guitar talk?. This is a steel guitar forum and the particular thread has some good stories relating to recordings with electronic voice sounds.

Speech Synthesis Resources

Speech Synthesis Software and Audio Demos

  • AnalogX Vocoder Simply supply a wave file with some speech (or singing), supply another wave file with an instrument playing, and voila! Your instrument will now be modulated by the speech wave and it will sound as if it’s talking. AnalogX Vocoder outputs 16-bit/mono/44100 wave files and can load any sample rate and any bit depth mono wave files.
  • AnalogX SayIt Type in any word or phrase, set the sliders to the appropriate settings, and click the ‘Render’ button to produce a wave file. AnalogX SayIt outputs 16-bit wave files, and can handle phrases up to 500 characters.
  • Microsoft Research: The Whistler Music Synthesizer demonstrates the power of Microsoft’s speech synthesis technology by applying it to music development and singing. The site has a few male and female vocal samples.
  • Yamaha VOCALOID® Singing Synthesis Technology. The software enables song writers to generate authentic-sounding singing on their PCs by simply typing in the lyrics and music notes of their compositions. The software synthesizes the sound from "vocal libraries" of recordings of actual singers, retaining the vocal qualities of the original singing voices to reproduce realistic vocals. Listen to audio samples here and vocalist sample libraries here.
  • Speegle The Talking Search Engine another post on this site with more speech synthesis technology resources.

Further Sound Synthesis Exploration

  • Wikipedia BBC Radiophonic Workshop provides an overview of the Radiophonic project with historical details and useful links.
  • Daphne Oram, the unsung pioneer of techno a BBC resource about the mother and founder of the Radiophonics project. Daphne developed a system to convert pictures into sound called Oramics. You can listen to an audio clip of an interview with her on The World This Weekend in 1972. On the clip she talks about the Oramics technique and a selection of sounds are reproduced. There are also many interesting comments to read posted by site visitors.
  • Daphne Oram: A Tribute to a Pioneer is an informative piece about her life and work written by Hugh Davis.
  • Sound and Sound Effects in the Early Animated Films provides some insight on the technologies and techniques used during the making of movie soundtracks.

Doctor Who Sound Design 

There has been much interest in the sound production of Doctor Who following the re-make of the BBC TV series. This comes as no surprise as a new generation of fans tune in to the Doctor Who theme tune. The creative audio techniques used in the composition of the original Doctor Who theme are part of electronic music history. See BBC Radiophonics Workshop above. The following links explore the history of the theme music and the team of people responsible for many of the original sound designs used in Doctor Who productions.
  • A History of the Doctor Who Theme explains the background to the creation of the original theme music and offers a history of the changes made to it down the years.
  • Doctor Who theme music audio files is a collection of theme music variations throughout the history of the series in WAV format.
  • Delia Derbyshire an original creator of the Doctor Who theme music and influencial electronic music composer. Video clip here.
  • The Dr Who Audio and Video FAQ written by Dominic Jackson to explain the survival of many pieces of rare Doctor Who material, either video or audio.
  • Whomix is a site for modern remixes and arrangements of the Doctor Who theme composed by Ron Grainer and realized by Delia Derbyshire.
  • Radiophon-A-Tron create your own version of the Doctor Who theme tune.

Audio of Beethovan’s 9th Symphony Time-Stretched

  • 9 BeetStretch continues the visionary exploration of Beethovan’s work by using current digital audio technology. This is Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony stretched to 24 hours, with no pitch distortions. Executed in various versions with either the Snd or the Common Lisp Music software, both made by Bill Schottstaedt. Made at Notam, Oslo. Section 5.2 is "Ode to Joy". Formats: RealAudio Streams and MP3 downloads.



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