It's the sound of science: Vochlea converts your voice into musical instruments

In the fifth of our series on how technology is being inspired by the senses, Audi explores an invention that can turn the human voice into a real trumpet drum or guitar sound. Ally Farrell tunes in…

When Michael Jackson was accused of plagiarism for his song The Girl is Mine in 1993, he contested the claim by explaining his songwriting routine: “I woke up and I had this song, and I went over to the tape recorder and sang exactly what I heard in my head.”

The singer proceeded to act out that process in front of a lawyer, using his voice to demonstrate every layer of the song – beatboxing the drums, mimicking the bass guitar and humming the strings.

When inventor George Philip Wright stumbled across that clip of Jackson, it gave him an idea. “Here is one of the most influential artists of all time,” he muses, “and if you took the recording he just did vocally and gave that to a band, they would create the exact song. So what if you could create some kind of artificial intelligence that was capable of doing that?”

“We have only scratched the surface of the human voice’s capabilities”

That’s exactly what George has done. The engineer has created the – a microphone that can turn your voice into any musical instrument. Make the sound of a trumpet with your vocal chords, for example, and the Vochlea will project it as a real trumpet. Hum a guitar tune, and the riff will emerge as if you have played it on a Fender.

The sense of sound – particularly the human voice – is something George reckons has not yet realised its true potential. He says: “Sound is core to our everyday life. So much of the way that we process the world is done through audio. We have only just started to scratch the surface of the human voice’s capabilities.

George’s Vochlea creation could revolutionise the world of sound and songwriting. Explaining the technology behind it, he says: “It’s a bit like speech recognition, except that it’s for music creation. The idea is that you can mimic different instrument sounds and the Vochlea will recognise what they are and create the equivalent instrumentation live.

“The technology uses your voice to control and trigger audio samples and software  instruments. It does it all live so you can essentially convert your voice into any instrument.”

While the Vochlea is still in development, the prototype – a futuristic, diamond-shaped microphone – looks, and sounds, impressive. George believes it can be beneficial to everyone – from budding performers such as himself to accomplished composers who work in the same way as Michael Jackson.


100 to 300
The number of times the vocal cords vibrate per second during speech


He says: “For the amateur it is a way into music creation. There is a lot of complicated software and musical instruments out there. This gives you an instant ability to create music. A more sophisticated musician can use Vochlea to add effects or to craft the envelope of different sounds.

“One of the points of inspiration for Vochlea was observing the way that a lot of musicians create music. At that early stage in the songwriting process using the voice is a common theme, because it is our built-in audio tool.

“There is a lot of skill that we have in expressing ourselves. If we have an idea for audio it makes sense that we would use our voice to express that.”

Critics might fear that such tech could kill off more traditional musical instruments, but George disagrees.

“I have had a few people say that to me but I don’t see it as the death of music at all. In fact, I see it as a gateway for a lot of people who otherwise might not be able to create their own songs.”

 

A car that is music to the ears

Sound design in every sense is an integral part of a richer driving experience, and Audi utilises world-leading technology to make this happen.

Audi’s own sound laboratory. Audi engineers spend hundreds of hours at the Ingolstadt plant in Bavaria testing and evaluating the best sound technology. The work is yielding valuable insights for the development of future systems.

Three systems to choose from. Audi sound systems come with six-channel amplifier and ten speakers as standard. Bose surround sound and Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System are available as options.

Surround sound. Up to 23 Bang & Olufsen loudspeakers in the top of the range option are tailored to individual seats with Movie Mode providing a cinematic experience.

Audi and music in advertising. Trying to incorporate classic songs with a modern twist to support our storytelling creates distinctive and memorable advertising.

 

MAKING SENSE OF OUR SENSES

We cannot control everything that takes place on the road ahead of us (or behind), but we can use our senses to react in the optimal manner. Audi is integrating technology to enhance our senses, and in this series we are introducing inspiring individuals who are doing the same in the fields of sight, taste, touch, smell and sound.

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To stay up to date with Audi’s innovation, explore the range, book a test drive or request a brochure, visit . For more on the senses go to driving.co.uk/six-senses