Thursday, December 14, 2006

Great Sound Effects - The Sonovox

I was listening to an old “Ellery Queen” radio drama via the Internet last week. The program was just okay, but there was a wonderful 1950s vintage radio commercial that included the terrific Bromo Seltzer Talking Train. Whoo Whoo -Bromo-Selzer - Bromo-Selzer - Bromo-Selzer - Bromo-Selzer. Have a listen.

I looked the BS-TT up on the Internet. Evidently, the Talking Train was a big deal in the advertising world back then. It utilized a now ancient sound effects device called a Sonovox.

Sonovox uses small loudspeakers attached to the performer's throat. It was used in a number of songs from the 1940s to the 1960s, and is used to create the voice of Casey Junior the train in Dumbo and The Reluctant Dragon, the instruments in Rusty in Orchestraville and the piano in Sparky's Magic Piano. (Check out the Whizzer the Flying Airplane's song here)

A descendant of the Sonovox is Peter Frampton’s beloved Talk Box (remember the talking guitar in Show me the Way?) The Talk Box takes the audio output of an amplified instrument ( ie, an electric guitar), and transforms it via a sort of electronic effects pedal. The unique part is that the sound generated by the pedal travels through a length of plastic tubing that the musician puts in his or her mouth.

The Talk Box differs from Sonvox in that (from wikipedia) “As notes are generated by the guitar or other instrument, sound moves through the plastic tubing into the musician's mouth, where it is modulated by the movement of the lips as the player silently mouths words. The resulting sound, which is further amplified by a microphone, combines the melodic quality of an instrument with the information of speech: a talking instrument.”

Has anybody made similar speech effects gizmos? If so, please post details on the Makezine blog


Anonymous said...

The SONOVOX was indeed a hip mystifying effect and showed up not only in ads but in movies. There was a late 40's (?) comedy scary movie with (I think) The Bowry Boys that involved a murder mystery built around a con-man seance-mystic who made wierd speaking sounds with the Sonovox (which was pretty much a special set of headphones strapped to the throat). In the 50's and 60's pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake had a career built on the gimmmick as "The Singing Steel Guitar" most memorably the tune "I'm Sorry".
The Sonovox's electronic descendant is the VOCODER, a device which is in essense an analyser/synthesiser that breaks a sound into frequency bands, analyses each band's volume (incidentally the same process that our cellphones use), and then applies that model to some -other- sound, so you can have, say, the sound of ocean waves modulated with the sound of a human talking and get The Talking Ocean.

reetsyburger said...

I'm sure the technology ain't that fanstastic to create something similar to this:

I bought one for my niece for Christmas. My nephew didn't look as happy with his bubble gum making kit.