Wolfgang von Kempelen – Mechanical Speech Machine.

Wolfgang von Kempelen.


Mechanical Speaking Machine.

Before the continuum of sound was able to be captured through the phonograph, or even earlier experiments where grains of sand were ordered on a surface by certain frequencies, the desire to order, control and reproduce sound was largely focussed on the human voice. This may be reflective of the fact that at least in the West, it’s the voice and the Word, which has historically served to order our world. Of this desire, Wolfgang von Kempelen’s speaking machine is an important example.

What’s also interesting about Kempelen, is that his most famous endeavour, the Mechanical Turk was soon exposed as a fraud, whereby the automated chess player in truth had an expert operator hidden under the stage. This would suggest that Kempelen was more interested in the depiction (or at the very least, the concept) of the artificial, constructed human. By today’s standards he might be thought of as a conceptual artist rather than a scientist.

Image: on-culture.org

Categories: Processed Voice / Post-Human

Homer Dudley of Bell Labs – The Voder.

Homer Dudley (of Bell Labs NY).

The Voder. (Played here by Mrs Helen Harper).


Speech Synthesis Device.

Both in the lead up and during the Second World War, all sides developed ways to weaponise the human voice. Radio, film, tape, encryption and imitation were all drafted into service, which gives some context to the rapid developments around synthesised speech at this time. In the post-war period these new technologies were quickly disseminated, and just as the factories which had turned out fighter planes were now making cars and fridges – so too magnetic tape, vocoders and computers developed during the war were then afterwards co-opted by a flourishing experimental music scene in the USA.

What is so significant about this particular artificial talking device, is that unlike pervious examples such as the Euphonia, it did not use air, but instead relied on pure energy in the form of electricity. In this way a synthetic voice could now be summoned not out of thin air, but from somewhere beyond air altogether.

Image: amusingplanet.com

Categories: Post-Human / Processed Voice

Flann O’Brien – The Third Policeman

Flann O’Brien.

The Third Policeman.

Written – 1939 / 1940

Published – 1967


This entry follows on from my note about Edgar Allen Poe’s The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar and the way in which literary fiction has a rich history of voices which are synthesised, disembodied or mysterious in their origin. By chance I came across this example in O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, in which a ghost of the murdered Mr Mathers returns as a kind of clunky double, somewhere between a puppet and a hologram – who can only answer questions using a binary of yes or no answers. Such a vivid description of an embodied digital voice in 1939 (One year before Alan Turing would begin developing the world’s first computer) is remarkable and may prove useful in helping me connect more recent synthetic voices such as Hatsune Miku, with a longer history of digital virtuality.

O’Brien. F. (1974). The Third Policeman. [novel]. London, UK: Picador.

Categories: Avatars / Post-Human / Processed Voice.

Donna Haraway – A Cyborg Manifesto.

Donna Haraway.

A Cyborg Manifesto.



Reflecting on the situation that humans (women in particular) find themselves in towards the end on the 20th century, Haraway argues for the cyborg as a model under which to understand ourselves. As we’ve been profoundly re-shaped and continue to be impacted by bio-tech, computers, pop-culture and more – the dream of a ‘human’ life, lived in it’s natural unmediated state has all but vanished. As she points out – “The cyborg would not recognise the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust.” (p. 9)

A major theme running through the text is that the emergence of this said cyborg not only now changes everything, it forces us to realise that nothing ever was truly as it seemed. The cyborg not only destroys the garden, but shows us that the garden was never anything more than a shabby assemblage of cultural artefacts to begin with. While for some this might form of a crises, Haraway argues that by confronting the situation head on, it provides a escape route, an avenue for profound cultural change. After all, cyborgs can be rewired, reprogrammed – their codes can be hacked and altered in useful ways.

Haraway. D. (1984). A Cyborg Manifesto. Minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota Press.

Categories: Post-Human / Making Worlds

Sam Kidel – Voice Recognition DoS Attack

Sam Kidel.

Voice Recognition DoS Attack (from Silicon Ear EP).



Sam Kidel is yet another artist who is interested in the way the voice has been disembodied, fragmented, mutilated and subsequently problematised through our relationship to technology, in particular digital technology. Drawing on his time spent working in a call centre, he takes this voice as commodity and weaponises it back against the current all encompassing techno-capitalist framework in which we live.

Kidel. S. (2018). Voice Recognition DoS Attack [online file]. Accessed 23/05/2019 – www.samkidel.bandcamp.com

Image: samkidel.bandcamp.com

Categories: Processed Voice / Post-Human.

Harry Dacre – Daisy Bell

Harry Dacre.

Daisy Bell.

1892 – sung by IMB704, 1961 / Hal 9000, 1968 / Hatsune Miku, 2013.

The speaking voice functions historically as an interesting point of contact between humans and machines. Both in part because our brains are biologically programmed (already the human / machine dichotomy begins to collapse) to detect and prioritise sounds which fit the rhythmic and harmonics patterns associated with speech, but also culturally where the voice acts as a marker of individual agency.

The musical voice then raises the stakes at this point of contact for several reasons. Firstly, as music is widely considered to be closely bound with early language (early humans imitating the calls of birds through song & imitating the polyrhythms of frogs and insects through percussion etc), so when music spontaneously erupts from artificial intelligence the status of the machine is elevated, as it becomes interwoven with all of human history. It doesn’t even require that this theory of early music be true, all that’s required is a cultural mythology arising from the theory, one with a strong enough foot-hold.

Secondly, because there is a perceived critical difference between the machine which gathers information to perform tasks, and the machine which gathers information and then combines it all to synthesise a kind of over-arching temporal and spacial plasma, giving rise to consciousness. Music here serves as the marker to indicate that this line has been crossed. In particular the song Daisy Bell works because it’s protagonist addresses themes of – time, aspiration, desire, autonomy, reproduction and selfhood.

Dacre. H. (1894). Daisy Bell [composition]. United Kingdom: J. Albert & Son.

Kelly. J, Lockbaum, C, Mathews, M. (1961). Daisy Bell [recording]. USA: IBM.

Kubrick. S, Clark. A. C. (1969) 2001: A Space Odyssey [film]. UK / USA: Stanley Kubrick Productions.

Matsuo. Kyoya. (2013). Daisy Bell [recording]. Online source. Retrieved 29/04/2019 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJF7iBB6Z18

Categories: Post-Human / Processed Voice

CCRU – Writings 1997 – 2003


Writings 1997 – 2003.


This collection of essays written by various CCRU members between 1997 and 2003 presents a compelling mix of philosophy (Deleuze and Guattari were clearly a huge influence), video-game fan fiction, alternate histories, deadpan equations for time travel and methods for communicating with extra terrestrials. It’s a prime example of how in order to speculate on the conditions of a near future, multiple disciplines can be successfully brought together as raw materials for world building. If things seem a little jarring, all the better!

As my own practice is currently exploring virtuality and within that, drawing on the post-human, the digital, collective fantasy and language – these writings from the CCRU have been useful in demonstrating what can be gained from collaging together such a wide range of material.

CCRU. (2015). CCRU 1997 – 2003. Falmouth, UK: Time Spiral Press.

Categories: Post-Human / Making Worlds / Avatars

Holly Herndon – Godmother (with Jlin)

Holly Herndon.

Godmother & Jlin (Feat. Spawn).


mp3 Single.

Holly Herndon is a master at distilling complex, metaphysical and moral problems into materials, sound in particular. Continuing her interest in virtuality, big data, privacy and intimacy, Godmother uses an artificial intelligence developed by herself and partner Mat Dryhurst, which then interprets photographs of Herndon’s godmother, Jlin and attempts to re-create her voice from these images. While Herndon’s work has a strong philosophical backdrop, this doesn’t enter the work as representation, instead it becomes the work directly. The idea isn’t required to explain the work, but itself is the work. This semester I’ve been particularly interested in considering how in my own practice, content and form can work together, how concepts can be embodied materially.

Herndon. H. & Lin, J. (2019) Godmother [mp3 Single]. NewYork, USA: RVNGintl Records.

Categories: Processed Voice / Post-human / Avatars

Jake Moore – Fourmant

Jake Moore.



Generative audio instillation.

Walking in to the space which houses Fourmant, the listener is confronted with three veiled speakers, each playing back digitally processed vocal tones. The wall text sheds some light, informing us that these vocalisations are generative and entirely artificial, rather than recorded. What becomes apparent while listening over time, is that while the artifice is forefront, we cannot help but perceive a body from the presence of voices alone. This supports the argument put forth by Steven Connor, who somewhat counterintuitively proposed that – “every disembodied voice is always also what I called a ‘voice-body’, the body implied by or intuited from the voice” (Connor 2012, p. 1). Rather than the voice correctly residing within a body, the body as a construct (at least in part) resides within the voice.

This goes some way to helping understand how both puppets and digital idols are able to manifest themselves as distinct bodies who wield agency and often demonstrate a remarkably stability. While previously I had been thinking of virtuality primarily through the lens of language, Moore’s work served as a reminder that our more immediate sensory experience of the world must also be taken into consideration.

Conner, S. (2012). ‘Panophonia’. [Speech, transcript]. Paris: Pompidou Centre, 22 February. accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.stevenconnor.com/panophonia/

Moore. J. (2018). Fourmant. [artwork]. In: RMIT, Honours Graduate Exhibition. Melbourne, Australia.

Categories: Processed Voice / Post-Human

Edgar Allan Poe – The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar

Edgar Allan Poe. 

The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar.



In 1877 when Thomas Edison first publicly presented his latest invention, the phonograph, a sudden and irreversible split occurred. The human voice which had until then remained captive within the body, welded to flesh and bone, at that moment escaped into the world never to be returned. Despite just how profound rupture this was, it’s worth considering the many textual examples prior to this where authors wrote of voices detached from their rightful owners and in the case of the story from Edgar Allan Poe, detached from the realm of the living altogether!

Poe. E. A. (1845).The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar.Re-published in: Poe, E. A.– Forty Two Tales (1979). London, UK: Octopus Books. pp. 275 – 285

Categories: Processed Voice / Post-Human