AI voice, as a groundbreaking phenomenon, highlights two possible meanings that are often not problematized: the voice embedded into AI-based devices and the voice created using AI algorithms. To clarify the distinctions and the intersections of these two meanings, approaches inspired by media archaeology and social constructionism may be used to explore a social phenomenon constructed by the interaction of a discursive level of representation and a non-discursive level of material practice and operation.
The interaction of these two levels results in a tension between anthropocentrism and posthumanism–a characteristic of AI voice. Two case studies represent this tension, namely the commercial of the smart speaker Amazon Alexa and the phenomenon of voice cloning. While the first example demonstrates how at a discursive level the “voice in the machine” is represented to personify AI technology, the second, which consists in the possibility of reproducing the features of an embodied and personal voice, provides an example of how the materialization of that cultural idea depends on the technical possibilities and material practices required by data-driven algorithms.
Read on in “AI voice between anthropocentrism and posthumanism: Alexa and voice cloning” by Domenico Napolitano (Journal of interdisciplinary voice studies VII/1 [August 2022], 35-49).
Below is a video that jokingly explores the voice behind the Amazon Alexa.
Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor’s expressive cover of the ballad Nothing compares 2 U, originally composed by Prince for his 1985 album The Family, turned into a worldwide hit in 1990. The song, which explored the pain of separation, received platinum and gold album awards in numerous countries and became O’Connor’s biggest hit. Her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (featuring Nothing compares 2 U) was one of the world’s best selling albums of 1990 and was nominated for four Grammys. Sinéad spent parts of her youth in boarding schools and busking locally. At age 20, she moved to London and released her debut album The Lion and the Cobra, which went certified gold in the United States in 1987.
In 1992, she appeared on the popular U.S. sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live where famously she drew attention to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church by tearing up a picture of the Pope on live national television. Some of her songs explored her experiences with abuse as a child and denounced war. Sinéad also publicly campaigned for women’s rights and especially the right to abortion in Ireland. Together with musicians from the bands Coldplay, Led Zeppelin, One Direction, Queen, U2, and others, she took part in Bob Geldof’s Band Aid 30 project in 2014 to raise funds to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The documentary Nothing Compares, about her life and career, directed by Kathryn Ferguson, was released in 2022 and received two British Independent Film Awards (BIFA).
In Sinéad’s final interview in 2023, she discussed how in childhood she realized the power of music and her voice. As she described, “My first musical memory is my father singing to me [the folk ballad] Scarlet ribbons. I just remember being blown away . . . lying on my pillow and my dad singing this song to me. I was like, ‘Oh my God, the angels came in the window.’ My mother was a very violent woman, not a healthy woman; she was physically, verbally, psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally abusive. My mother was a beast. And I was able to soothe her with my voice. I was able to use my voice to make the devil fall asleep.”
Sinéad O’Connor passed away in London on 26 July 2023. Read her obituary in MGG Online and stay tuned for a full article.
Listen to Don’t give up, recording that features O’Connor with Willie Nelson below.
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Daniela Cascella’s 2017 book Singed: Muted voice-transmissions after the fire contemplates the silences and fissures that take disconnected works and tune them into a shared frequency. The book inspires a reading and listening that opens rather than closes the depths of a given work of art. In Soused (2014), the collaborative record between the eminently obscure singer-songwriter Scott Walker and the minimalist sub-bass drone group Sunn O))), the same types of disconnect and shared frequencies elicited in Cascella’s Singed are brought together.
Given the extremity of both Walker and Sunn O))), the meeting point of these extremes leaves listeners to wonder, as Cascella might, how one is able to write or speak after listening to Soused? This evocation is based on the way that both Walker and Sunn O))) push their listeners to various limits, be it lyrically, vocally, aesthetically, or sonically. Walker’s excess is a coalescence of all these things–his lyrics operate through what he calls “edge work”; his voice matures toward a depersonalized space voided of the usual predicates so that it resembles the sound “of just a man singing”. Walker’s aesthetic becomes increasingly dark with each of his albums, punctuated by long periods of reclusiveness and silence. The musical soundscapes, from the album Climate of hunter (1984) onward, become increasingly expansive, more experimental, and ultimately more difficult. Similar to Walker, excess and minimalism characterize Sunn O)))’s primal slabs of guitar and synth. Their maximalist drone doom collapses the boundaries between the aural and haptic, carving out an immersive physio-aural-haptic experience. The idea of an “apocalyptic tone” (inspired by Maurice Blanchot’s notion of disaster) becomes the basis of these imagined frequencies and resonates in the soundworld created by Walker and Sunn O))) on Soused.
Read on in “The apocalyptic tone of Scott Walker, Sunn O))) and Soused” by Adam Potts (Journal for cultural research XXIV/3 , 185–202).
Below is the music video for Brando, from the album Soused, by Gisèle Vienne.
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Ryūkyūan kumi wudui (組踊, Japanese kumi odori) uses a variety of codified vocal techniques to identify the gender and social class of each character. Degrees of musicality, variation in timbre, and pitch inflection are all understood as emblematic of particular character types.
These vocal techniques are constructed within Ryūkyūan society with reference to the Ryūkyūan language, class system, and gender relationships. Many parallels can be drawn between the ways vocal identities are constructed in kumi wudui vocal culture and in other world theater traditions.
This according to “Listening to the voice in kumiudui: Representations of social class and gender through speech, song, and prosody” by Matt Gillan (Asian music XLIX/1 [winter–spring 2018] pp. 4–33).
Voice is understood here as a phenomenon of different disciplines such as communication and performance, but also as a methodological tool and analytical mechanism. This journal aims to represent the wide variety of voice scholars and hopes to reflect the multifaceted nature of this subject.
Below, a project by the interactive theater collective non zero one, the subject of one of the articles in the inaugural issue.
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The vocal tract organ is a new musical instrument that consists of three-dimensional (3D)-printed vocal tracts (throat and mouth) for individual vowels sitting on loudspeakers to enable static vowel sounds to be produced.
The acoustic excitation from the loudspeakers is a synthesized version of the typical waveform produced by the vibrating human vocal folds during pitched sounds, which enables the instrument to be played from a keyboard.
The vocal tract organ will become an instrument in its own right, and it could be used as a direct replacement for the vox humana organ stop, given that its acoustic output is a much closer representation of the human vocal output than that from a vox humana organ pipe. The 3D-printed tracts may also be used in vocal and choral workshops as well as degree-level music technology education.
This according to “The vocal tract organ and the vox humana organ stop” by David M. Howard (Journal of music, technology & education VII/3  pp. 265–277).
Above, an illustration from the article; below, a composition by Professor Howard.
In an experiment, direct high-speed video observations of an elephant larynx demonstrated flow-induced self-sustained vocal fold vibration in the absence of any neural signals, thus excluding the need for any purring mechanism. The observed physical principles of voice production apply to a wide variety of mammals, extending across a remarkably large range of fundamental frequencies and body sizes, spanning more than five orders of magnitude.
This according to “How low can you go? Physical production mechanism of elephant infrasonic vocalizations” by Christian T. Herbst, et al. (Science CCCXXXVII/6094 [3 August 2012] pp. 595–599). Below, a podcast interview with Dr. Herbst provides examples and further details (including the fact that the elephant had died of natural causes).
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