Watch Lucille Ball demo a 1939 ancestor of the "talk box" famously used by Peter Frampton


Not exactly. By 1939 Hollywood had the best sound recording and editing technology outside of Bell Labs. The people who shot this simply had no idea what they were doing. And the camerawork is lousy too.

Thus my comment that the sent the interns to cover this.


Perhaps the problem is with preservation/reproduction rather than the original filming?


I’m saying both what @ChuckV is saying, and that the best of 1939 isn’t up to the standards we expect today. Or are you comparing with other recordings of the day?


And add to it this is basically a news reel which was produced on the cheap and cranked out quick to fill time at the theater.


True. The production would have not had the best resources, either equipment or people, most likely.


And some extra characters.


I love Lucy…


What, right now? Fortunately the sound quality is bad and I can’t hear you…


A talk box allows the human larynx to modulate the sound generated by a machine by bouncing air shaped by talk box off the vocal folds which is then picked up by a mic in front of the mouth . The user doesn’t actually speak (no air from the lungs is passed over the larynx), the sound comes entirely from the hose bouncing air from the talk box off the larynx. The process is known as subvocalizaiton.

A voder is a machine used to approximate human speech.

Some sound engineers have even combined the two approaches. You can take a throat mike, which works on a related principle to the talk box’s rubber hose, and process the modulations of the larynx through subvocal recognition (SVR) into an electrical signal, which can then be fed into the codec for an electronic voder. Of course the more traditional and common method is to simply use a conventional mic to vocoder, as heard on countless songs, but the advantage of the subvocal (or throat) mic is that the speaker or singer hears only the machine output and not their natural voice (much like the talk box). You can even loop a feedback signal between SVR and the vocoder, with some pretty wild results. The best thing is that all of this can now be done with a throat mic, an amp, a speaker, with the processing handled entirely by software DAC, SVR and vocoder.


Even with modern technology, subvocalization is a surprisingly difficult skill to master. I can only imagine it was more so with 1939 technology. I’m not surprised they wanted a talented actress to showcase it. Lucille Ball might make it look easy, but that doesn’t mean it was.




A sound effects artist at disney using a similar voice to make a train talk in the reluctant dragon (this is from 1941, so i guess it was made after the lucille ball clip):


Stevie Wonder does talkbox (Solo demonstration with talking at 2:55):


Newsreels were mostly shot without synchronized sound, though. Decent quality recording equipment was significantly less portable than 16mm film cameras. OTOH, this was obviously shot in a recording studio.


While the newsreel presents this device as a curiosity, it was a side effect of the development of the electrolarynx, which has restored a voice to many sufferers of throat cancer,


Damn, that man could make anything sound awesome. :clap:


What’s weird is I can remember a Transformers-branded toy (Transformers for obvious reasons) which worked the same way. I think my brother actually had this:





Also featured in Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon, though I don’t know who’s demonstrating it.

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