Earlier today while I was finishing up work – Rockford Jay popped into the office to let me know he had found something that was going to shock me. Pulling up a video on YouTube by Vocal Synthesis I was indeed surprised by the fact that there is now an option to listen to the late Sir Alec Guiness reading The Call of Cthulhu. Of course this isn’t a case of finding an old radio recording or lost LP but a result of an entirely computer generated narration courtesy of the Tacotron 2. You can find more information about Google’s Tacotron2 by following this link – which was provided from the Vocal Synthesis video – but it breaks down to text to speech that features neural networks capable of creating human sounding speech. That link leads to a Google AI blog post from 2017 – but while the Tacotron 2 might understandably have a ways to go before being perfected it is already giving us the option to listen to a reading of the 1794 poem “The Tyger” by William Blake… courtesy of John Cleese.
The inflection and speech pattern that is captured in that reading by an electronic version of Cleese is more than a little astounding. And one cannot help but think of the possibilities that the future could bring – how amazing would it be to have the likes of the late and great Orson Welles read Moby Dick? Of course this type of process could very well be the biggest boon to filmmakers – such as that upcoming film starring James Dean – it would possibly be easier to get a convincing performance from the digital actor with it actually sounding like Dean, right? Now as I spend far too much time in my day thinking about the past and matters of pop culture – I will admit I am quite open-minded in regards to new technology and the future. Having said that there is a small part of me that is a little wary of how the Tacotron 2 could be used beyond entertainment and educational purposes – I mean in the near future if they perfect the process so one cannot tell the difference… what if it was used to falsely present someone saying something slanderous?
I personally do not think that will be the case though, just putting that out there on the table. As I have already stated, the process has a way to go and you will hear some of the issues with how it handles certain words with this reading of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1928 short story. So without further ado, 20 years after his passing give a listen to Sir Alec Guinness as he reads The Call of Cthulhu.