Bringing things ‘to life’: a talking piano

The most familiar early synthetic voice was that of Sparky’s Magic Piano in 1947, popular in schools over a decade.  It sounded as though a piano was talking. The technique is called ‘vocoding’. In those days it was a pioneering project, the Sonovox, from Bell Labs.   Today, such software is available as freeware. A vocoder, with voice-synched animation can bring an inanimate object ‘to life’.  


The vocoder with voice-synched animation can bring an inanimate object ‘to life’.  However, they offer much more: a key practical benefit of a synthetic voice is its ease of production.  One only has to speak into a microphone or create some text to make an artificial voice.  A library of ‘answers’ or ‘lessons’ from the talking piano could be stored as a database of .wav/mp3 files. 

The piano sequence required a few stages:  a text-to-speech voice  allows unlimited amounts of text to be turned into speech. This voice was then played into a .wav-to-midi software converter (many free ones available) to get a .mid file. This was then played in software with the midi set to ‘piano’. The resulting file was unintelligible as speech but was a perfect musical translation of the voice file.  That piano .wav file was then imported to Zerius Vocoder software where it became the ‘carrier’ .wav file.  The voice .wav file became the Zerius vocoder’s ‘modulator’ file.  The levels were blended such that the software then made an intelligible ‘talking piano’.

The soundtrack then animated a still frame cartoon piano using CrazyTalk software. This multi-stage process is perhaps too fiddly for a single short piece like that above. However, the idea is to breathe life into a ‘character’ that can then speak whatever text or audio is put into the system.  That it works with text-to-speech voices lends it to batch production of material. Points to observe and discuss:

  • Bringing characters to life.
  • When and how to use artificial (robotic etc.) voices.
  • Voice-synched animated visuals.
  • Vocoder and wav-to-midi to create musical versions of speech or other sounds (industrial sounds, animals, nature, …etc).
  • Batch production from text to talking character
  • Additional audio realism effects (pitch, reverb, compression ..)

One Response to “Bringing things ‘to life’: a talking piano”

  1. free text to speech Says:

    free text to speech…

    […]Bringing things ‘to life’: a talking piano « Movie-Tom.Com[…]…

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