Radio 4's Word of Mouth this week interviewed Laurence Brewer. Laurence has Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and is in the process of banking his voice to create his unique synthesised version for future use.
Laurence says that, although the idea of voice banking is popular in the US, he wants to raise awareness among speech and language therapists in the UK of the potential benefits. Laurence knows that at some point his speech will deteriorate; his desire to find out about the different options was driven by a wish for his 6 month old son to grow up knowing his voice.
Laurence is going through the screening process of a home-based speech synthesis software package called ModelTalker. Once this is complete, he will record himself saying 1600 pre-set sentences. The researchers will then 'cut and paste' phonemes and syllables to reproduce his speech patterns. As it is a US program, Laurence is not sure how it will cope with his accent! Although aware it might be very clear, he is cautious in his expectations: "I think it will probably sound a bit stilted and a bit robotic, but I think there will still be an element that will be of myself. So it will sound similar to myself – but maybe myself imitating a Dalek!"
The Word of Mouth programme will be repeated on Monday 13th September at 23.00. It starts with Tony Crimlisk who has been recording voices in his family since 1956 in the way that many people take photographs. Dr Shelley Trower, an oral historian, then discusses how such projects give voice to people who wouldn't normally be included in written history. Dr Tim Bunnell talks about how the ModelTalker technology works and Laurence explains to interviewer Chris Ledgard that voice is an important part of people's identity. He wants to leave a legacy of his voice, and to make speech and language therapists more aware of the technology that can support this.