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Prof Dr Gabriel Imthurn is Head of the Department of Music Education in Adolescence. He coordinates courses and further education programmes in music and leads research projects at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland. Prof. Dr Tibor Gyalog is Co-Head of the Department of Science Didactics and its Disciplines at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. The two experts are responsible for the scientific support of the "Universe of the Voice" experience group at Phänomena.

«In every voice lies a unique universe»

1. Is every voice unique?

(GI): Every voice has a unique spectrum. This is used by certain companies to identify customers on the phone, for example. What fascinates me about the voice is that we as humans can immediately hear who it is and whether this person is doing well, whether they are in a good or bad mood. This shows us that every voice produces unique sounds. A frequency analysis creates a picture that shows the richness of a voice's sound. Emotional components that cause a feeling when we hear a familiar voice or a particularly beautiful singing voice also become visible. Our voice is like a personal signature.

2. I assume deep fake audio recordings also have such a signature? Is there technology to distinguish genuine signatures from manipulated ones?

(GI): There have already been cases in which an artificial intelligence has stolen a human's voice.
(TG): Apparently, the signature of a voice can be copied and transferred to another text. If you want to find out whether something has been faked, the recording is tested for typical errors, similar to images. These include, for example, frequencies that do not occur in a natural voice or unnaturally fast transitions.

3. Mr. Imthurn, you claim that everyone can sing. What is required for this ability?

(GI): We need two skills to sing. Our vocal apparatus, like any other organ, needs to be trained. Our ears are sensors that check whether the pitch is correct. Finally, we need a musical imagination. To be able to sing a children's song, I need to know our tonal system and how sounds should sound. People who think they can't sing have poor self-esteem when it comes to singing and therefore don't practise.

4. What makes professional opera singers so special?

(GI): All the factors mentioned come together here. An opera singer has a lot of practice. The muscle work of the breathing technique ensures that the voice sounds correct, and this is controlled by the trained ears. Opera singers also mould the airways, from the throat to the oral cavity to the sinuses, in order to vary the sounds. Wherever there is air, they can make it sound with the vocal folds. Opera singers focus a lot of energy at a certain point and a certain frequency in order to rise above the orchestra.

5. What role does the learning environment play in pupils' progress in singing lessons?

(GI): Singing at school is first and foremost a social act that emphasises singing together, which according to studies has prosocial effects. It makes people happier. Whether at school or in a scout group, singing together awakens positive feelings. There is also the individual side, which requires conviction and some training in order to be able to sing with confidence.

6. Which factors are decisive in the question of whether we perceive a voice as pleasant or not?

(GI): Basically, this perception varies greatly from person to person. Not everyone likes the same voice. But if someone is hoarse, their voice has an unusual break and sounds miserable. These wrong frequencies cause the harsh sound quality. Some voices have a certain dissonance by nature, which creates a creaking or a particular tension in the throat.

7. Are these also factors that make a dialect such as that of Bern or Graubünden appear likeable?

(GI): There are some interesting social phenomena here: for example, the fact that the people of Basel and Zurich don't like hearing each other. This actually also has to do with the different voice frequencies. You can also see this in the examples you mention: the Bernese dialect comes out of the larynx at a lower pitch, while the Grisons people tend to produce the sound further back and higher in the throat. The deeper sound of Bernese German then exudes a certain cosiness.

8. What are the tonal differences between the vowels A and O?

(GI): At the Phänomena, visitors have the opportunity to see their own sound spectrum. In addition to the sound that we consciously perceive, the human voice also produces numerous overtones that we do not consciously perceive. These are responsible for distinguishing vowels. The "O" has a few high-energy overtones in the lower frequency spectrum. In contrast, the "A" has significantly more varied overtones, which leads to a completely different auditory impression. Depending on how clear these vowels are, you can see them better or less well in the visualisation. We know quite a lot about the frequencies of "A" and "O". We will also show that the ear can still be easily fooled.

9. You mentioned voice analysis with sound spectra; can you describe how Phänomena visitors will be able to analyse and visualise their own voice and compare it with others?

(GI): You sing or speak into a microphone and get a kind of map of your own voice. This is a frequency analysis in which you can see the overtones of your voice and therefore the individual vowels and consonants. These maps can be compared with each other. We even go one step further and want to compare the maps not only with voices, but also with sounding objects such as organ pipes and vibrating sheet metal.

(TG): Acoustics describes sound waves, similar to water waves. These waves can form hills that are close together or further apart. And they can spread quickly or slowly, just like water. At the Phänomena, we transfer these waves, which come from the voice, to other devices, such as louvres, which then move, or light beams, which dance around. This means that you can control real objects with your voice. You first have to get to know your own voice in order to understand what you are actually doing. Because in everyday life, we generate these voice waves completely unconsciously. At the Phänomena, visitors learn how to visualise these waves and then control them.

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