Sunday, January 14, 2007

word pictures...


in the late 1950's, the bell telephone company began an ad campaign showing images of research done at bell labs towards developing a technology that could read voice characteristics like a fingerprint. the above ad, from a 1957 radio and tv news magazine, shows that the 'word pictures' were totally different than any previous attempts to visualize sound in graphic forms.

"we devised a method of making spectograms of spoken words. we call them voiceprints. they are actual pictures of sound, revealing patterns of voice energy."

of course, they were trying to visualize the invisible, and in terms of the almost cosmic phrase "voice energy", didn't seem adverse to adding a slightly alchemical touch to their language. it sounds like a phrase gurdjieff would've used, and it suggests the potentials in a science that allows the unknown and the unseen to fuel questions as opposed to a process seeking a specific answer.

in the image below, from a small bell labs brochure, you can compare two different voices speaking the word 'hello'. this is a little later than the ad above; and i love how the images feel a lot closer to topographical maps than pictures of sound - evoking the existence of a landscape within a single spoken word, and suggesting the various paths one could take on a journey through a single sound. (i am riding in a small boat through the river of the 'oh' of your 'hello'.)



Blogger saf said...

Thanks so much for this post! I am trying to do a little research on the Bell Labs voice prints. Could you say some more about where and how you found the images?

9:45 AM  

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