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Voice Boxes

Voice Boxes

Chapter:
(p.261) Chapter 13 Voice Boxes
Source:
London Voices, 1820-1840
Author(s):
Ellen Lockhart
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226670218.003.0014

This chapter argues that paradigm shifts in vocal science and the morphology of speaking machines in London during the 1820s through the 1840s were central to the development of abstract and metaphorical notions of “voice.” It notes that the first recorded instance of the term “voice box” in 1835 coincided with London-based scientist Charles Wheatstone's public presentation of his box-like speaking machine, based on an earlier model by Wolfgang von Kempelen (the earlier model supposedly part of an automaton). Wheatstone’s novel insistence on dispensing with human anatomy for his vocal synthesizer or “box” both reflected a bourgeois fascination with cases and containers, and fueled a broad willingness to understand voice in abstract and fungible terms. This chapter notes that the musical “Gem,” denoting piano transcriptions of particular singers’ performances, emerged in London in the 1830s simultaneously with a critical turn comparing operatic voices to precious metals and jewels. Finally, it examines the curious case of one Mr. Richmond, an overtone singer whose ability to perform duets by himself made him a frequent performer in lectures on “voice” within London's forums for popular science.

Keywords:   speaking machine, acoustics, Charles Wheatstone, gems, overtone singing

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