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"If we're going to be consistent and advocate freedom of speech we have to advocate freedom of encrypted speech too. The genie is out of the bottle, cryptologically."
- Neal Stephenson

Perfect Voice Modulation  
  Artificially creating the perfect human singing voice.  

The author describes the current fashion in singing, complex modulation and range of octave, perfectly:

The actual words could not, of course, be distinguished, and between each stanza the voice yodeled up the scale in an astonishing manner, perfection itself as regards tonal value, but really rather terrifying in effect. Still it was regarded as the highest form of modern art, embodying, in subtle harmonics, all the violent passions of the earlier and more primitive world. Even the matter-of-fact doctor felt his pulse tingle at a particularly complex burst of crescendo and smiled ruefully at the vision of his client

But perfect voices are one in a million, and those with such voices command unheard-of salaries. Right?

They hurried through the central projector hall into a smaller chamber, the walls of which were decked with huge photographic prints of sound records. Several men were adding to the collection as though their lives depended upon the job.

“Look here,” Nash indicated three six-foot long prints. “This represents part of a single sound pronounced by Dorna Guiselle and Miss Wentworth. It was recorded by the ‘fulltone’ process having an effective response up to twenty thousand cycles per second. See the difference?”


(The perfect voice from 'Prima Donna 1980' by Bernard Brown)

The doctor nodded.

“Dorna Guiselle’s is more peaky. I suppose that is due to your precious harmonics?”

“Yes, yes of course. But don’t you see the significance?” Then as the doctor merely stared, “The full line is the fundamental wave and the dotted one the mean through the harmonic area above the fundamental. You must be blind, man, if you don’t see the dotted lines are similar and both reduce to the same curve! Plotted to a common base they show only difference due to experimental error.” His forefinger pointed out a lower curve under which was printed “Harmonic Indicator”. This curve can be derived from either the voice of Dorna Guiselle or Wentworth — it is common to them both. There, from either voice I am given a factor which will enable me to choose harmonics from records of the other.”

“You’ll have to explain further, I’m afraid,” remarked the doctor drily. He did not like the way Nash referred to Joyce Wentworth.

Nash almost danced in impatience.

“Harmonics are expression, emotion — joy, sorrow, hate, love, greed and all the rest of them. The curve of the harmonic indicator is the curve of emotion. Wentworth sings into the microphone. I filter off the harmonics, leaving the fundamentals below, say 1,200. The harmonics are automatically integrated by light before a photoelectric cell, which gives pulses proportional to emotion, expression or whatever you like to call it.

“These, after suitable amplification, are impressed as a modulator upon a very delicate oscillator having a range from 1,200 to 20,000 cycles per second, which thus differentiates the flat curve into its component fre- quencies. The resultant speech current is then added to the fundamental from Wentworth and the composite current goes to the main soundcast amplifiers.

“Aren’t you as badly off as you were at first?” asked the doctor with a puzzled frown. “You seem to have cut off the top of Miss Wentworth’s voice and then elaborately put it back again.”

“Rot!” snapped Nash. “I cut her off her top, if you like, but then I add a fresh one. Not Dorna Guiselle’s even; scientifically perfect frequencies as can be obtained only from a thermionic oscillator. It is the perfect voice.”

From Prima Donna 1980, by Bernard Brown.
Published by Amazing Stories in 1931
Additional resources -

Eventually, the implications are made clear.

“Cut down that volume,” Nash snapped behind his back. An operator made a quick adjustment to a potentiometer knob and the sound diminished and faded right out. Out of the silence came a voice.

The words were silly, trivial — but the voice. Again the doctor felt the thrill of vocal perfection. Doubtless many millions all over the world were experiencing similar sensations. Even the stolid operators at the meters and switches glanced furtively at the flat face of the condenser speaker, as though wondering if such sounds really came from a thing of copper and beryllium.

“Let’s go; the thing’s uncanny.”

Even the coarse voices of ordinary performers are raised to levels of perfection only dreamed of by patrons of opera!

For from the loud speaker broke out the dialogue of the comedy which formed the next item in the programme. The voices were not the rollicking ones of comedy, however, but of magnificent opera. The perfect voice. What was wrong? Was he going mad? He shook his head, but still the voices continued in brilliant, unearthly perfection. He stared at the others. They, too, were gripped with amazement. Only Nash was not impressed.

“Schonberg, you’re a fool !” The words rang out again. “You’ve killed your golden goose.” Nash suddenly laughed and there was ridicule in his voice. “World Teletainments and Jos Schonberg,” he sneered. “The perfect voice is the voice of- science. There is no human variable. All voices are equally perfect. Put your guards in there, Schonberg; let them sing! Yes, even you, Schonberg, can be a Caruso!"

Compare to the artificially produced speech from Hotel Cosmos (1938) by Raymond Z. Gallun.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Prima Donna 1980
  More Ideas and Technology by Bernard Brown
  Tech news articles related to Prima Donna 1980
  Tech news articles related to works by Bernard Brown

Perfect Voice Modulation-related news articles:
  - Vocaloid Voice - Soul Singing Synthesis
  - John Lennon Would Have Loved Auto-Tune - Paul McCartney

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