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- 12:30 CRI

CRI Research Seminar: Pauline Provini

CRI Research Seminar: Pauline Provini

Birdsong for human(e) voices We share remarkable similarities with birds. Among them, bipedalism and complex language are two traits often seen as human specificities, yet also present in birds. In my long-term fellow project, I want to focus on birdsong to build a new generation of vocal prostheses. Patients suffering from an advanced stage of laryngeal cancer often have to undergo a total surgical removal of the larynx, which is the human voice source. To recover the ability to speak, a prosthesis, mimicking the vocal folds, is usually placed between the trachea and the oesophagus. The exhaled air crosses a vibrating element and produces a substitute voice. Unfortunately, the created voice is of poor quality: it is weak, with a low pitch and sounds mechanical. In addition, the limited lifetime of the devices, due to biofilm coming from mucus/material interactions, forces a frequent device replacement. To date, there is no voice prosthesis lasting more than 3 months and able to reconstruct a natural-sounding human voice. In this context, birds should attract attention. First, their vocal repertoire is incredibly diverse, with pitches spanning from 100 to 12 000 Hz, compared to only 85 to 255 Hz in human speech. Moreover, their unique vocal organ, the syrinx, produces sounds from the vibration of membranes, located in the wall of the syrinx, unlike in mammals. Finally, birds modulate the primary sound with motions of the entire vocal tract, which is probably linked to the diversity of sounds they are able to produce. By exploring the anatomy of the vocal system in a broad range of birds species, and quantifying the 3D motions of the vocal system during sound production and modulation, we want to build a predictive aero-acoustic model we can use to ask “what if” questions and understand cause-effect relationships between shape, motions, and produced sounds. I will present the interdisciplinary approach we use in the CRI Birdsong team, integrating biology, physics, and computer science to provide the fundamental principles to the design of a new generation of vocal prostheses that will produce voices that sound more humane.


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