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Will a machine ever be able to sing?


Will a machine ever be able to sing?

Thursday 3 September 2015

WILL a machine ever be able to sing? Will technology ever match the magical quality of the human voice?

Professor Trevor Cox poses these big questions on BBC Radio 3 tonight at 7.10pm as part of the coverage of The Proms from the Albert Hall.

The documentary traces the history of singing machines from a replica of the earliest example through to the modern Japanese pop sensation vocaloid hatsune miku.

Trevor, a world-renowned acoustic engineer and regular broadcaster, was asked to present an idea to be broadcast between the music coverage, and says he jumped at the chance.

“I’m passionate about communicating acoustic engineering to the public. Sound stories work very well on the radio, and I’ve been lucky to have presented over 20 documentaries for the BBC.”


The programme, made by Trevor himself and Nick Holmes, a BBC producer at Media City, saw the Professor involved in every aspect of the work, from developing the idea and pitching it to the station, through to selecting the interviewees, doing the interviews, and reading and writing the script.

Attempts to develop a machine that can sing date back to Wolfgang von Kempelen's Speaking Machine of 1769, which was a physical model of the vocal tract, but it was only with the development of computer technology that a lifelike singing machine became possible.

In the early 1990s a computer model of the physics of the human vocal tract performed Nessun Dorma - the machine was called Pavarobotti! Trevor talks to Pavarobotti's inventor, Ingo Titze.

Library of sounds

In the early 21st century, samples of a real singer were used to create a library of sounds which can be pieced together to create the impression of a real person singing opera. Trevor speaks to the music journalist Kate Hutchinson about how this technology has developed in a surprising way, and has taken on a new life of its own.”

Catch Trevor’s broadcast at 19.10 today or on catch up via the BBC Radio 3 website for 30 days after that: