Sunday, January 21, 2007



this one sided 7" (with a beautiful cover obviously influenced by paul rand) was published by bell labs in 1963 to show "examples of synthesized speech developed by bell telephone laboratories for educational use..."

sure, it's easy to listen to this primitive sounding "computer speech" with a sense of ironic distance; but if you listen without the distance, these recordings are really quite amazing. the geniuses at bell labs found a way to use punch cards to control a vocabulary of speech sounds, pitch, loudness, and other variables towards trying to get a machine to speak a human's language like a human.

"the speech comes out of the simulated talking machine as tiny magnetized spots on half inch magnetic tape. the tape is fed into another machine which converts the spots to a sound tape suitable for playing on an ordinary tape recorder."

to spend, what would appear to be, an insane amount of time and research just to get a machine to sing "daisy" is somewhat nuts on the outside; but quite the beautiful obsession on the inside. there was a belief that this research had significant value towards what bell labs called "the nature of speech and hearing", and the labs' various explorations along these lines from the 40's - 60's attempted to expand our perception and understanding of the various relationships between sight, hearing, listening, speaking, and sound.

i love the way the phrase "he saw the cat" had to become "H EE S AW DHUH KAET" to be spoken properly by a machine. it seems connected to how humans should speak star names in yesterday's post... and i also think it's interesting that this little piece of vinyl is kind of a record of a beginning to attempt to humanize the computer and also to create a more complex and less definable relationship between man and machine...

click here to LISTEN


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That poor computer has one heck of a head cold! It sounded a little stuffy. And, the wierdness of the speech wore off once I started listening to the content and not the sounds. It reminds me of HAL.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you're not the first to find this 7", apparently. My Record Store Clerk Nerd Alert went off when I saw this pic. It was used a few years ago as the cover (and title) of a record by a punk band called Rye Coalition.

5:18 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

that's hilarious... you'd think some techno thing or one of the subrosa electronic music cds woudl've swiped it, but punk rock... that rules!!!!!!!!

7:13 PM  
Blogger John W. Hubbard said...

I knew you'd also have one of these! Certainly the inspiration for the HAL 9000, though HAL was not synthsized speech. Check out this obsessive book from MIT:

12:55 PM  
Blogger WFG said...

My dad worked for Bell Labs when this work was being done in conjunction with IBM. I still have a copy of the pre-public release version of this recording which was distributed to Labs employees. It's interesting that the original doesn't have the "shout out to Texas" bit at the end.

There were quite a few "in jokes" contained in "2001" that only Ma Bell folks got at the time. Perhaps there are still some who don't get them now, even in this age of the Internet and instantaneous global communication.

Arthur C. Clarke had the vision; Bell, et al, made it happen.

4:04 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home