Voice in Electronic Art – From Whistle to Speech Recognition

Martha Carrer Cruz Gabriel

The human dream of talking to computers in a natural way is not new. Science fiction books and movies that live in our imagination present several examples of this aspiration. Until recently, talking to computers was in the realm of fiction, however since the beginning of the 21st century it has become possible and easy due the enormous advances in speech synthesis and voice recognition technologies as well as the open standards adopted by the W3C (such as VoiceXML). The accuracy level reached by voice technologies now has allowed us to use them more widely, including on the web.
In this paper we present a brief panorama of electronic artworks that have used voice in several forms -- from whistles and blows to the state of the art in using speech synthesis and recognition technologies. Although the first experience with voice technologies was in the 18th century, only since the beginning of the 20th century has their commercial use really started and it was not until the end of the century, in the 1980s, that the first electronic art experiments with voice technologies were developed. Since then many electronic artworks have used voice in several creative forms, showing interesting human-computer interactions. From the first voice experimentations in electronic art to the use of speech synthesis and voice recognition on the web -- as we have nowadays -- it has been a long journey. The intention here is to register this journey in art. Therefore, we will point out some key artworks ending with the Voice Mosaic – piece that allows voice interactions on the web through the telephone, dissolving borders and amplifying the pervasiveness. We will also briefly discuss about the potential of using the same voice technologies used in art for increasing social inclusion and web accessibility.

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