Gojira Tree

Gojira Tree

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

HAL's father??

Scene: a junk shop on the east side of town. Your blogger is waiting for the owner to name a price for a sound recording he found in the back in a box he wasn't supposed to go through (he hadn't known that, though). The dealer is going through every possible word combination on eBay in the hopes of finding a listing (and a price), though by now it's obvious there isn't one. Still, she searches. And searches. Lee correctly figures that she's stalling. Finally--"What's it worth to you?"

I'm willing to pay ten bucks. "Five dollars," I reply. "Ten, and it's yours." "O.K." Deal done. (I hate mind-reading dealers! Just kidding--she was quite cool. And savvy.)

And what a record. A magazine-insert 33 1/3 with three bands, lasting all of two minutes, and cooler than heck:

So, here's the scoop: a longer version of this Bell Telephone Laboratories record was released in 1963 on a 7" 45. Which, I found out by Googling, can be heard at Otis Fodder's 365 Days Project. (Under "Computer Speech")

And a copy of the 1963 45 recently sold on eBay for $40-something.

However.... My magazine-insert record is from 1961. So there. And it seems to have a different narrator.

Explains the back of the insert: "The samples of speech on this recording were produced by an electronic digital computer. They are a by-product of a research project at Bell Telephone Laboratories to obtain a better understanding of the nature of speech."

"Each speech sound is specified on a separate punched card," it continues. A series of cards are fed into a "high-speed, general purpose computer," and the synthesized speech is recorded onto half-inch magnetic tape, after which the tape "is fed to another machine which converts the digital information to a variable magnetic sound track suitable for playing on an ordinary tape recorder playback." See? Simple as pie.

Band 1 is entitled "The computer speaking." 2 is "The computer reciting a soliloquy from Hamlet." 3 is "The computer singing." Just wait until you hear what it's singing! (Cue the 2001 title music):

Synthesized Speech--Produced by Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1961. From magazine-insert 33 1/3 RPM disc.

That was COOL.

Well, I think, anyway. And it's possible I have a less common version of an already uncommon record. Whatever. It's cool. I daresay, it's HAL-acious.

I hope you en-joyed that re-cord.



Byron in Los Angeles said...

Hi Lee, WoW ! whaddafind and in tune too. This was recorded before I could even speak, I was born that year nineteen sixty one. Welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Cool beans, Lee. That's a nice find. Thanks for sharing. --JMT

Sawdust said...

Cool record...I saw the link to your page on boingboing.net

Interesting about that song and the HAL connection.

I don't think that computer speech really improved much for about 40 years after that record was made! It didn't sound half bad.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Byron, Anon.,

Glad you enjoyed. And I'm betting my stylus was the first to touch those particular grooves. Listening to the 1963 version, I can hear that my earlier disc definitely features a different narrator. It makes me wonder if this brief disc was such a hit that they decided to do a longer, more formal release.

Yeah, I wish I could sing that much on key. Maybe if I filter my singing voice through a series of "punched cards." Couldn't hurt!


Lee Hartsfeld said...


I agree! That seems to have been the sound of fake speech for quite a while. But what amazing technology. Also amazing, to my ears, is how similar the sound is to that of a vocoder--save for the fact that, with a vocoder, you can tell it's a filtered human voice vice something generated.


Anonymous said...

More Speech Synthesis information here:

and here:

and about this recording here:


COOP said...

Kubrick was given this same recording while in preproduction on 2001, so it is more than coincidence!

COOP said...

Duh. The 2001 connection is mentioned in the above wikipedia listing, though it credits Clarke as the connection.

piR8 said...

fantastic find that man !!

thanks for this. Do I put in Tech Heritage or Cultural Archive? :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm curious that your 7" is from a 1961 magazine when the other evidence (including Bell Labs own page) lists the first recording or this speech and song as 1962.
Is your record definitely 1961?

Maybe Ball Labs need to correct their page ...

Lee Hartsfeld said...

It gives the year as 1961, and the narrator is a different person than featured on the 1963 version. I think your site must be in error, as there's further evidence for a 1961 date from this page devoted to the Smithosian Sound Synthesis History Project http://www.mindspring.com/~ssshp/ssshp_cd/ss_rlog.htm, which mentions a "33 1/3 rpm flexible diskette labeled 'Synthesized Speech', Bell Telephone Labs, 1961." My disc, that is to say....

Except the project used a magnetic tape made from same.

So, my guess is that Wiki and Bell gave the wrong year.


Lee Hartsfeld said...

In case my last comment made less than perfect sense, the 1963 recording I refer to is the longer 7" disc put out by Bell Labs. Rather odd that this shorter version came first, but maybe it was only originally intended as a flexi-disc and nothing more....


Andrew said...

That's great.
I have seen 1961, 1962 and 1963 all lsited as the recording dates but I made the (incorrect) assumption that the Bell Labs site was accurate.

Your find confirms otherwise (after all, that site listing entires in the Smithosnian records could equally be wrong if you didn't have the artifact in question)

I have also seen different programmers credited with the resulting speech and singing (and musical accompaniment).

Is there any more information with your disc? are any programmers mentioned?


Lee Hartsfeld said...


"John L. Kelly, Jr. and Louis J. Gerstman of the Visual and Acoustics Research Department at Bell Laboratories" say the liner notes. I might type them out--er, save for the vowel and consonant info, which would be tough. Wish I had a scanner.

Or (he wrote, thinking out loud), if I do a good digital shot using my tripod, I should be able to blow the detail up acceptably.

That I will attempt. And I'm about to post a few more images from the disc....


Andrew said...

Aaah, Those were the two programmers of the recording that Arthur C Clarke allegedly heard at a visit to Bell Labs (which may well have been in 1962).

It seems like they were trotting out this recording - and variants of it – until at least 1963. It makes you wonder at the pace of technoogical progress today (I'm not suggesting for a second that these people were slackers – their foundations were slow but crucial)

Thanks for the updates.


Sunfell said...

It's interesting how far synthesized speech has come. My NOAA weather radio plays a synthesized voice for its regular forecasts and weather conditions, and I have listened to it improve over the past few years.

Here's the websitethat talks about the Console Replacement System and the DECTalk system that NOAA uses. NOAA says that using synthesized speech actually speeds up getting weather warnings out.

I've always wanted a text-to-speech synthesizer that sounded either like HAL, Mr. Spock, or C3PO. Yeah, I'm a geek...

Anonymous said...

BonziBuddy sang Daisy Daisy as well..

Evelyn said...

The one thing that hit me is how much the uncredited(?) narrator sounds like the synthetic speaker. Makes me wonder if this was originally intended as a presentation by one of those two gentlemen generally given the credit for the Bell Labs work. I also wonder if they are contact-a-ble (still among the living and approachable for more information that might shed further light upon your record and some of the questions it poses.

FWIW, I remember one of the exhibits at the 1964-65 NYC World Fair was about synthesized speech. It, and the early picture phone system and other "modern" technology made the rounds of the shopping malls in NJ in the fall after the official closing of that fair, as did the Sinclair Dino-Land dinosaurs and injection molding machines. I can remember seeing both of them at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ, and the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne as a pre-teen.

Ted Compton said...

Excellent! I used to have a copy of that record - worked for the Bell System in the 60's - but it got lost somewhere along the way. Thanks for rediscovering.

(BTW although I don't know for sure I thin you may be correct in betting there were two releases. I don't recall the graphics being printed on mine. My recollection is that mine was sort of an internal distribution. So it's very possible they made two versions.)

Andrew said...

Cool - I remember finding the 7" version in the early '70s with my best friend in High School.

Daniel said...

When I heard the "Daisy" song I got goosebumps! Awesome post... Thanks for sharing this!

"Open the pod bay doors HAL..." :-)

Jeremiah Johnson said...

Rather than taking down the tunes, why not just put them up on a torrent? It will allow everybody to share the cost of bandwidth and also allow people to download for much longer.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Explain more--can you write me at my e-mail (it's in my profile)? That sounds like the ideal plan, but I don't know what a torrent is. If you could send me an e-mail, I'd be obliged. Thanks!


I had the same impression!--that the narrator was a synthetic voice. I was waiting for this to be revealed, but it wasn't. *Unless* the closing "Thank you" was intended to be a clue....


Can you tell me more about the disc, as in how it was distributed--is it possible it was included in a company publication? Unless you were given the 1963 issue, which had a sleeve (either paper or cardboard).

Thanks, all, for the comments. I've got to do some emergency bandwidth tending....


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this thrilling and historically important recording!

Max the drunken severed head

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Sure thing! I'm glad I stayed in the shop and dickered (or did I deal? I can never tell the difference). Normally, I politely beg off from the "What is it worth to you?" routine, but I really wanted this one. Plus, the dealer was really quite cool. A real character.


Bill Bradford said...

Here's another variant of the recording with some different "vocals":


LO2 said...

The Remix:


Max Power said...

Really neat. I heard it first this weekend on the Leo Laporte radio show. We sure have come along way since punch cards. Keep up the good work.

kate said...

Hmmm... am I the only one who can't hear the recording? I'm trying in both IE and Firefox. I'm just clicking on the link? I tried saving the file instead but it's just showing as an html file. Please help, even if it involves making fun of me, because I really want to hear the recording.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


I'm in no position to poke fun--I barely know what Firefox is! (IE is Internet Explorer, I presume.) I just tried and got a blank page--Box.net, the storage site, is having access problems for a few hours today, apparently starting now. Please try a little later--Box.net always bounces back. They're a relatively new site, and they just made major upgrades, so their usually great service has been a little under the weather. There's nothing wrong with your browers! Sorry about that--give it a couple of hours.


lady domi said...

At last! Boxnet being in great shape + Lady D. being able to spend some time on listening this morning, she could hear this fantastic piece. Wow!

dtalbot said...

WOW! I have a vivid recollection of hearing that recording in 9th grade English class in 1963. Mrs. Waller played it for us (from a record?) and I told people about it for several years after. (Shows I'm getting old when I can remember that and not what I did last night!)

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Lady Domi,

Glad you enjoyed!


That's about where my memory's at, too. ( <: Very cool recollection--thanks for sharing!


Deeper Digger said...

In junior high school in the sixties, I assembled a Bell Labs kit on speech synthesis. It didn't have much sequencing capability, but worked with analog circuits to shape the envelope of a tone generator to produce a passable set of phonemes. Geek fun for the "AV boys" crowd.

They also had one which assembled into a cardboard polariscope, and another used to create a CdS photocell, if I recall correctly.

Anonymous said...

Better late than never. I ran across this thread as I was searching for some background of the Daisy/2001 connection.

I have a copy (somewhere) of the original magazine insert disc. I cannot recall which magazine it came in, but it may have been Popular Mechanics in the 60's.

When I later heard it in "2001" I couldn't resist a chuckle.

During an FM free-form radio stint in the 70's, I often played that little jewel.

Great find!

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Cool! I figured I wasn't the first person to "break" this disc (is that an expression?). Popular Mechanix sounds right. I've got the entire insert, including a fold-over portion, but the name of the magazine is nowhere to be found. Very annoying. Of course, that raises the possibility it appeared in more than one publication. Hm....

Yes, my path of discovery was the reverse--from "2001" to the original HAL!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thought... but as of 9/28/2007 it appears there is nothing at that URL

docsharp01 said...

I wonder does Bell Laboratories offer a PBX Phone System for small business?

antipax said...

Hi, I wonder if it would be possible to reupload the mp3? Thanks.

Jost von Harle├čem said...

if you are still around id love to see that recording online, sounds really curious how your recording differs from the others noted here.