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Pioneering concert combines live and synthetic voices

Posted on 18 January 2013

An innovative concert combining human and synthetic voices with music will provide exciting new insights into how computer-generated voices can be made more expressive.

Organisers of the concert at the Woodend Gallery in Scarborough on Saturday, 26 January, believe this may be the first concert globally to present a series of compositions combining both live and synthetic voices.

As a Computer Scientist, I really appreciate this opportunity to work with people from an arts background. Their needs and expectations of the technology push it into new and challenging areas.

Dr Alistair Edwards

One of the highlights of the event will be an extract from the work of American composer Joseph Olive, an early pioneer of speech synthesis. Taken from Mar-ri-ia-a, it involves an aria from Verdi’s La Traviata being performed as a duet by a singing synthesis system and an opera singer live on stage accompanied by a piano.

Other compositions include a live performer’s interaction with an ever more personal and intrusive telephone menu options system, If/Then and Really (As if) by Kevin Jones.

The concert is part of a research and public engagement project by the Creative Speech Technology (CreST) Network. A unique interdisciplinary network of contributors to the field of computer speech, CreST is leading the way internationally on research into how improvements can be made to the quality and experience of speech-synthesis technology by encouraging artists and scientists to work together.

Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Arts Council England, the CreST Network is led by Dr Alistair Edwards from the Department of Computer Science, University of York and Dr Christopher Newell, from the School of Arts and New Media, at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus.

The concert will provide an exciting finale to a four-day inter-active multi-media exhibition at Woodend Gallery from 23 to 26 January, called Articulate: The Art and Science of Synthetic Speech.

Dr Newell said: “We believe the concert is the first of its kind in the world and that it will produce a unique insight into the creative potential of computer-generated speech in combination with music and human voices. Creating expression for computer-generated voices has been a problematic area, but we believe there are useful lessons to be learned from music and the methods it uses to communicate emotion.”

Dr Edwards said: “As a Computer Scientist, I really appreciate this opportunity to work with people from an arts background. Their needs and expectations of the technology push it into new and challenging areas. I hope and expect that this will then feed back into the development of better technology, which might be used by people who have to use synthetic voices because they cannot speak themselves.”

Professor David Howard, from the University of York’s Department of Electronics, is an expert on the analysis and synthesis of singing, music and speech, and is investigating the acoustic properties of the ‘ring/tingle/hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck’ effect of the singing voice.  

At the Scarborough concert he will present his composition Vocal vision 1 for a computer four-part choir and two sopranos, which explores differences between computer and human singing.

Professor Howard said: “The voice is a wonderful area to research because everyone can appreciate its importance. As an engineer, choral singer and choral conductor I am interested not only in synthesising natural vocal sounds for communication but also how humans work together as a choir in terms of tuning, blend and that elusive ‘tingle’ for both singers and listeners.”

The exhibition and concert also include a melodrama written by Dr Newell. My Voice and Me is the story of an opera singer losing his voice and allowing his grand piano and synthetic voice to do the speaking for him, as he tells his story through a radio piece.

The concert and exhibition follow a successful road-show in December designed to raise public awareness of speech technology. Launched in York on the United Nations-sponsored International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it featured the premiere of a new micro comedy sketch film, Voice by Choice, written by and starring Lee Ridley, a stand-up comedian known as ‘The Lost Voice Guy’. Lee Ridley is the only comedian in the UK to use a computer generated voice.

Voice by Choice will be available to view at the Scarborough exhibition. Other highlights of the exhibition will include an interactive choral performance game where visitors can perform as a choral singer and a cartoon game presented by Toshiba which allows people to manipulate the emotions in cartoon characters’ voices.

The free Articulate: The Art and Science of Synthetic Speech exhibition is on show from 23 to 26 January from 11am to 5pm at the Woodend Gallery, The Crescent, Scarborough. The concert will be staged on Saturday, 26 January at 7.30pm. For free tickets email or ring 01723 384500.

Notes to editors:

  • The Creative Speech Technology Network (CreST), is an international network of contributors to the field of computer speech. Members come from a diverse range of backgrounds, all with the aim of pushing forward research. For more information on the CreST Network visit
  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800m a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.
    The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.
  • Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. It supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2011 and 2015, Arts Council England will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.
  • For more information on the Department of Computer Science at the University of York visit
  • For more information on related research at the University of Hull visit
  • For more information on the Department of Electronics at the University of York visit

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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