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Marc Williams

The Voder

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This is a short but interesting page on the Voder, the speech synthesis device showcased at the AT&T Pavilion. Make sure to listen to the sound sample!

<a href="http://www.obsolete.com/120_years/machines/vocoder/" target="_blank">http://www.obsolete.com/120_years/machines/vocoder/</a>

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Wasn't the Voder known as Pedro? I was looking at it's "Face" on the wall while listening to the recording, and the whole thing strikes me as a particularly creepy spectacle!

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Hi All,

I think it was called Pedro in 1940 but I could be wrong - I also think it was able to sing by 1940. I have a really cool b/w photograph of this thing - a strange exhibit indeed. This building also housed the Demonstration Call Room - the interiors of this building were designed by Henry Dreyfus, who did the Democracity.

Best,

MB

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There was a vocoder at the 64-65 fair as well as at the Museum in Chicago in the 60's - it was not used to manually generate speech like that sample, but was used to code and decode a volunteer visitor's voice - the pitch could be modified for strange and humorous effect. I believe that is what is called "visible speech" (fig. 4) in the PF reporter magazine article I posted elsewhere.

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The Bell Pavilion had some kind of exhibit on voice wave patterns- is that what you're referring to Wayne?

Bell had an artificial larynx exhibit too, for people who had lost the use of their vocal chords.

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The Bell Pavilion had some kind of exhibit on voice wave patterns- is that what you're referring to Wayne?

Bell had an artificial larynx exhibit too, for people who had lost the use of their vocal chords.

Yes, I think so - if you look at figure 4 from the PF Reporter article, you will see a big pitch scale above the podium, and TV monitors left and right with a bar chart showing the frequency content of the voice (the bandpass filter energies in the vocoder). As the volunteer spoke, the corresponding note on the pitch scale would light up and you would see how the pitch runs up and down. Simultaneously the bar charts would show the spectrum. The idea of the vocoder was to detect the pitch and control a sawtooth wave oscillator to make the same pitch (duplicating the vocal cords); and at the same time, the energy in each band would modulate the energy from the oscillator going through a corresponding bandpass filter to reconstruct the various vowel sounds of the speaker. Because the measured quantities vary slowly, they could be sent over phone lines using less bandwidth than the actual voice. And, for an interesting demo, the pitch could be raised or lowered an octave, "turned upside down", or changed manually by turning a knob, producing a strange sing-song effect that the volunteer didn't expect. Modern cell phones do similar coding. but it's all in your handheld phone, instead of in racks of equipment.

The artificial larynx had been around for some time. It was essentially a single-pitch vibrator producing a buzz in the range of normal human speech, that could be held to the person's neck while they formed the vowels with their mouth and tonque as usual. Not very expressive, with no pitch or volume change, but better than being silent.

Is that enough tech talk for today?

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Tech talk- love it! (well, often anyway). Even though I'm a comparitive tech dummy next to some of you guys & gals.

Just this morning I was sitting in church listening to one of the ladies sing a solo that sounded like an operatic aria kind of thing- which set my mind to wandering---

How many computers were at the World's Fair in '64-65?

That led me to wonder what's a computer- is there a definition?

The tone mechanism inside that DuKane musical horn (mounted inside each Greyhound Escorter) was pretty ingenious- is that a computer?

So I sat there in the pew mulling over what at the World's Fair might be a computer and what wasn't- G.E. roof which used a punched-tape program? Employee gate badge readers? General Foods Arch message display? Obviously IBM's language translator, and the pen pal matcher IBM machine at Parker Pen (that's what got me thinking), and the Univac at the U.S. Pavilion's Library which matched people's birthdays to what was in the news that day. What about the demographic counter at Equitable- would that be considered a computer?

About that time I got a painful elbow in the ribs from the wife because the person down the row was trying to pass me the offering plate.

When I got home I looked up the definition at dictionary.com, for computer

1. A device that computes, especially a programmable electronic machine that performs high-speed mathematical or logical operations or that assembles, stores, correlates, or otherwise processes information.

Thinking back 30+ years to my college days I seem to remember the Business Systems professor saying a computer had to have each of several things- I'm not sure I can remember them all- but it was something like

read & store a "program of instructions"

read raw data

run the program against that data

produce results that are beyond the input raw data, based on the program of instructions

create a display or report for the user

something like that anyway. So that would probably rule out the badge reader even though the badge did have a magnetic strip embedded between the paper layers (unless it was also used to clock in and clock out employees- doubtful)- and it might rule out Equitable too. It would certainly rule out the DuKane device.

The IBM and Univac machines certainly qualify. Didn't the Kodak Pavilion have something too?

The G.E. roof? Borderline. I lean toward no, if running the program was just running instructions but no computations (CPU not necessarily required). Same thing for the Disney audioanimatronic robots- at least the World's Fair versions.

Opinions?

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The artificial larynx had a dial on the side that changed the pitch of the bizz, hence the pitch of the artificial voice. I actually built one from the Bell plans and we used it at our radio station as a "robot" voice. The commercial version of that for radio was called the Sonovox. You can hear one in "Dumbo" when the train calls "All aboard!". The voice artist had it up to her throat and she basically mouthed the words as it vibrated the sound into her throat, as seen in "The Reluctant Dragon". I still have the one I built out in the garage.

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The artificial larynx had a dial on the side that changed the pitch of the bizz, hence the pitch of the artificial voice. I actually built one from the Bell plans and we used it at our radio station as a "robot" voice. The commercial version of that for radio was called the Sonovox. You can hear one in "Dumbo" when the train calls "All aboard!". The voice artist had it up to her throat and she basically mouthed the words as it vibrated the sound into her throat, as seen in "The Reluctant Dragon". I still have the one I built out in the garage.

Is it possible they had more than one model? I don't remember a pitch dial on the one we had at the museum, but that doesn't mean it didn't have it. As I said somewhere else, the Bell Exhibit demonstrators were usually young ladies, so I got to play with the stuff only occasionally, but I do remember it being demonstrated in a monotone, maybe because the demonstrators didn't have enough practice.

Also, I didn't know it was used for the train's voice in "Dumbo." Fascinating! Any other technology crossovers like that, that you know of? (No need to mention the Theremin)

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I vividly remember discovering the Bell artificial voicebox at a local trade show my Dad took me to, mid-60's.

I was horrified!! Horrified that some poor folks had lost their voicebox via war injury or cancer, and horrified that they had to use this device that made them sound like a monster from outer space. Couldn't think of a worse fate. Dad finally convinced me that this device was a good thing.

It was also at this show I got my miniature Princess phone keychain.

(But no way were we going to spring for a Princess extension! Black 500 in the living room for us. And a party line!)

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The one I saw and copied had a variable pitch, but that doesn't mean they all did. My guess is that like many other things they improved them over time. Thinking about this thread made me realize I haven't seen anyone using one of these in a long time. I guess advances in health care have helped in that regard.

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AT&T - "In 1939 , Stibitz and S.B. Williams built the Complex Number Calculator, the world's first electrical digital computer. Its brain consisted of 450 telephone relays and 10 crossbar switches, and it could find the quotient of two eight-place complex numbers in about 30 seconds. Three teletypewriters provided input to the machine.

In 1940, Stibitz took one of the teletypewriters to an American Mathematical Association meeting at Dartmouth, New Hampshire, and used it to communicate over phone lines with the Complex Number Calculator in New York. This was the world's first demonstration of remote computing."

Is that a computer? I dunno!

<a href="http://www.att.com/attlabs/reputation/timeline/39comp.html" target="_blank">http://www.att.com/attlabs/reputation/timeline/39comp.html</a>

Best,

Billy

PS - from the same site re Artificial Larynx : 1929 The first artificial larynx developed by AT&T Bell Labs was purely mechanical. A metallic reed vibrated inside a tube that was connected, by the speaker, between the mouth and the stoma, an artificial opening in the speaker's throat. Air forced up the windpipe, through the tube and across the reed, was then manipulated in the speaker's mouth to create artificial speech.

In 1960, AT&T Bell Labs replaced the mechanical artificial larynx with an electronic version. This required no stoma, and could simply be held against the speaker's throat. A vibrating driver in the larynx replaced the sounds made by vocal cords, which could then be formed into words by the speaker. AT&T made it available at cost worldwide.

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To me, a full digital computer must have stored program as well as accepting input, that is it should not be necessary to change the hardware to get a new function. So, the complex number calculator misses the cut. Computers that must be programmed by reconnecting cables are on the cusp.

This reminds me of the TIC-TAC-TOE playing machine at the Bell exhibit at the museum - operating completely on telephone relays. You would enter your move by dialing the number of the square desired on a rotary telephone dial, IIRC, and the relays would clickety clack followed by the machine's move lighting up.

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Here's part of a page from a Museum of Science and Industry souvenir booklet showing the Picturephone in the Bell exhibit. Like all such MSI booklets, it is undated, but I would place it somewhere in the 60's.

In case you can't read the signs by the Picturephone:

--------

The large sign reads:

Coast to Coast Picturephone Calling

Actual Picturephone calls are being made between

HERE and the Bell System Exhibits in

DISNEYLAND, CALIFORNIA and the

FRANKLIN INSTITUTE, PHILADELPHIA

Keep the Conversation Going!

- Ask other party's name

- Tell them about things you are seeing in museum

- Compare the weather conditions

-Ask where THEY live;

tell them where YOU live

------------

The small sign reads (after consulting multiple copies in different booklets):

ATTENTION

PHOTOGRAPHERS

The Camera Pickup Tube in the

PicturePhone is very sensitive

and can be damaged by flashbulbs.

Please check with attendant

before taking pictures

Second pic is the section on the Vocoder from the same page of the MSI booklet

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Just found a booklet from the Bell System Exhibit, 1940, on the Voder.

Enjoy! (caution, 3.7 MB)

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Wayne,

Thanks for posting that! Wish I'd thought to take a camera during one of the many trips to the Franklin Institute I made in the 60s. Of course you could never get anywhere close to the picturephones because of the crowds...

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[i was horrified!! Horrified that some poor folks had lost their voicebox via war injury or cancer, and horrified that they had to use this device that made them sound like a monster from outer space.]

Oh Mike-- what a memory you just stirred in me! Every Memorial Day when I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma... my dad would take us to a family reunion picnic held by his twenty-seven aunts and uncles. (I exaggerate, but only slightly). Anyway-- I always DREADED going-- but not because of the bright green ambrosia salad or unwanted kisses over military graves by lipstick-smeared and obese distant relatives.

It was the one poor war vet (Korea) who used an AT&T electronic larnyx to speak. Picture yourself as an eight-year-old coming face to face with a decrepit old man wearing a black patch over one eye who sounded just like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.

God bless him, the man was lucky to be alive-- but he scared me half to death every year until he was gone.

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In looking for some material from the Museum of Science and Industry related to the 1939 fair, I came across this script for the Vocoder demonstrated at the Bell exhibit in '64-65. The Museum script is dated 1-10-66 and marked "Rev. from World's Fair Script"

Vocoder_script_001.pdf

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