sparky & the sonovox

When I was a kid we used to listen to a radio show in the weekends where they would play kids stories/radio dramas & in hindsight this would be one of the first places that I became aware of audio manipulating perception. One of my favourite stories was called Sparky & The Talking Train, and the best bit was where the train starts speaking to Sparky. If you have heard it you will know exactly the bit I mean; ‘right front wheel…right front wheel’

So it was great to stumble across a copy of it on the interweb – you can download Sparky & The Talking Train from Kids Audiobooks plus the wonderful Kiddies Records site has a copy of Sparky’s Magic Piano which also employs inanimate objects speaking…
I always wondered how they did that effect, especially considering the technology when the show was made… & many years later I found out – it is a process called SONOVOX & here are examples from the two Sparky stories:
download Sparkys Train sample mp3
download Sparky Magic Piano sample mp3

The Sonovox process was invented by Gilbert Wright – Time magazine has an article about it here and to quote from it: “Gilbert Wright was meditatively scratching the bristly whiskers on his Adam’s apple & he noticed that queer sounds came out of his mouth. When he silently mouthed words, the sounds caused by scratching his whiskers were formed into words. Fascinated, Gilbert Wright, who was once an engineer and radio operator, began to experiment further.”

“with the Sonovox, a sound recording of a waterfall, a vociferating animal, rattling dice or whatnot is fed through wires to two little biscuit-shaped gadgets which are placed on each side of the throat against the larynx. These gadgets transmit the sound vibrations to the larynx, so that the sound comes out of the throat as if produced there. The sound is shaped into speech by mouthing the desired words.”


I have played with plenty of vocoders but unless you want to sound like Daft Punk the results can be less than inspiring… cross-synthesis can bear more interesting results but the process is not real time & certainly has none of the control or performance that the Sonovox does…

Here are links to a few other kids records using the Sonovox: Whizzer the Talking Plane and Rusty in Orchestraville – the latter being a brilliant musical appreciation course for any little rascals….

Relatedly there is a very good document available on Speech Synthesis with audio samples and history at Dave’s Imaginary Sound Space – highly reccomended!

Help me Sparky….

One thought on “sparky & the sonovox

  1. John

    I’m wondering if I can buy a Sonovox as software version. I’d like to talk to the gentleman in the picture who’s pressing those speakers on his throat..

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