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What's in a voice?

Hands-on at the exhibit

  • Come along to our stand to learn more about voices! Find out why we sound the way we do, how our voices have evolved, and how much we can change our voices 
  • Have a go at changing your voice, in different ways
  • Come and see different voice artists perform, and explore the sounds they make
  • Think about how your voice sounds to you, and tell us what word you enjoy the most to say aloud!

Find out more

Our voices - which we use every day for ordering coffee and gossiping with friends - are the most complex sound in nature. Although we tend to focus on language and the words we say, our voices are also the most extraordinary musical instruments, and they tell us information about ourselves, including our age, sex, and where we are from. We can change our voices all the time - sometimes because of the environment we are in, and often because of who we are talking to and how we feel about them.

Although features of our bodies have adapted during human evolution, we have not evolved a new organ for our voices. But our voices are capable of much greater complexity, and we can develop them significantly if we work with vocal experts like beat boxers or opera singers.

Our research is working out how we can control the ways our voices sound, and to understand how flexible and plastic voices are. To do this, we are using MRI scanning to image the brain, and to make moving images of the human vocal tract in action. We also use tools that let us image the ways that vocal cords move, the way we breathe when we use our voices, and how this relates to the sounds we make. We investigate how people change their voices, by instructing them to use their voices in different ways, to speak against noise or when hearing a delay (causing the voice to echo), and to speak in synchrony with someone else.

Our research will help us understand our voices and how we can help people when things go wrong with them.

Find out more at our What's in a Voice webpage.

Presented by: UCL, RHUL, University of Sussex, Wellcome Trust, Leverhulme Trust and ESRC.