Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Euphonia, a Victorian Talking Machine

Before the modern era of digital speech synthesis, engineers experimented with mechanical means of recreating the sound of the human voice.


"In the Victorian Era, the Euphonia was a 'talking machine' that had the ability to simulate human speech, designed by German inventor Joseph Faber. Her ghostly voice and vacant stare left many spectators scared and running for the exit." (Quote from Twitter user 41 Strange,)


Atlas Obscura says: "The Euphonia was the product of 25 years of research and an undeniably impressive feat of engineering. Fourteen piano keys controlled the articulation of the Euphonia’s jaw, lips, and tongue while the roles of the lungs and larynx were performed by a bellows and an ivory reed. The operator could adjust the pitch and accent of the Euphonia’s speech by turning a small screw or inserting a tube into its nose. It was reported that it took Faber seven long years simply to get his machine to correctly pronounce the letter e."


"With a conviviality akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 computer, the Euphonia began the exhibition at Egyptian Hall by saying: 'Please excuse my slow pronunciation…Good morning, ladies and gentlemen....It is a warm day....It is a rainy day....Buon giorno, signori.' Spectators were then invited to ask the Euphonia to speak whatever words they wished in any European language."


Once the 20th century arrived, most of the energy for inventing 'talking machines' went into phonographic recording. By 1939, electromechanical voice synthesis systems such as the Voder began to produce results (YouTube link).

Apparently there aren't any existing prototypes of the Victorian Euphonia technology in action, though some people have tried to create mechanical talking robots using silicone mouth parts.

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