Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 091

"Talking Machine," London Times, February 12, 1880.

A machine with which a remarkably close imitation of human speech can be produced has been brought to this country by the inventor, Herr Faber, and exhibited to the Physical Society and privately, for closer examination of its mechanism, to several well-known scientific men.  It opens up an entirely different set of questions from those suggested by the performances of the phonograph, which merely reproduces sounds uttered by the human voice.  This talking machine will give intelligible utterance, more or less distinct according to the words, to the ideas of the operator.  The machine is the product of the continuous labour and study of two members of the same family.  It was begun in 1815 by one Joseph Faber, and so far elaborated in 1841 that it was exhibited in that year to the King of Bavaria.  The originator, dying, bequeathed the machine to his nephew, the present owner, also named Joseph Faber, who had been associated with him in its construction, and since it became his property Herr Faber has almost doubled its powers of articulation.  The chief points of interest the machine has for the physicist, the physiologist, and, it may be added, for the philologist, lie in the results obtained from the ingenious contrivances by which the functions of the flexible and mobile organs of voice are performed.  The principal features of the machine are, to begin with, the bellows, from which the air is driven with considerable but varying force by means of a pedal lever.  The air passes in a horizontal stream through a small chamber, which represents the mouth.  The lips and tongue are of indiarubber, and the lower jaw is movable.  Below the laryngeal apparatus, and opening from the chamber in which it is contained, is another smaller chamber, about the size and shape of a lemon, from which a pipe curved upwards allows the air when driven through to escape.  This supplies the place of the nose to the instrument, and when a valve is opened enables the sounds of the letters m and n to be produced by the striking of the same keys with which the sounds of b or p are obtained.  The larynx is, of course, the most complex part of the machine, and to Herr Faber is due the elaboration of this portion of the mechanism.  Within a small oblong box, a narrow and exceedingly thin strip of hippopotamus bone, strengthened by indiarubber on one side, produces by its vibrations the speaking tone, which may be called the fundamental sound to be subsequently modified.  At the will of the operator the pitch can be raised or lowered, in saying "Mariana," or "Comment vous portez vous?" (the machine talks French, German, Italian, or English), the key-note remains unaltered to the end.  In front of the vocal chord and within the laryngeal chamber are stops or diaphragms, placed vertically, and rising and falling like the wards of a Chubb's lock, but different in that each stop is a spring, another stop by means of which an orifice at the base is enlarged or diminished.  Herr Faber has taken another liberty with nature, for besides placing the nose below the mouth, for the sake of convenience, he has placed the teeth in the larynx, or, more strictly speaking, with one of these stops he gets a somewhat lisping "s" or the sound of "sh" from the machine.  A small windmill-like arrangement gives the rattle of the letter "r," and a thin iron band, notched in the lower rim in front, fitting outside the upper lip, descends to give the "f" or "v" sound.  There are 14 keys by which sounds are controlled.  Striking the first the sound of "a" in "father" is produced, the mouth remaining wide open; another key being struck the lower jaw rises and the sound of "o" in "bowl" is given; a third key moves a lever which nearly closes the mouth and the sound of "o" in "movement" is emitted.  The other vowel sounds and the consonants are produced by the use of the diaphragms in the larynx with the mouth in the second or third positions.