MARTIN RICHES THE TALKING MACHINE
Sound installation, 1989-1991
While I was voicing the pipes for a mechanical organ I noticed that when they were playing incorrectly they would sometimes make sounds quite similar to human speech. I wondered if it would be possible to make special speaking pipes and whether it would be possible to make them talk.
The result was the Talking Machine an acoustic speech synthesizer. The speech sounds are produced using a flow of air and resonators just as in natural speech. The machine has 32 pipes, each one a simplified version of the human vocal tract. They reproduce the spaces which are formed in the mouth, nose and throat when we speak. The pipes are built according to measurements of X-Ray photographs taken of a person speaking. The valves which control the flow of air are operated by a computer.
I was fully aware of the historical connections. The first work I studied was Farkas Kempelen's 1791 piece, The mechanism of human speech, and a description of the author's speaking machine. Note that my Talking Machine uses a separate pipe for each sound, which is a principle that Kempelen discarded. The colourful and lively language of his classic writing nonetheless proved inspiring for me.
Text: Martin Riches, photo: Tom Gundelwein