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March 2, 2010 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Roger Ebert gets his voice back

The movie critic whose ongoing fight with cancer and loss of speech has been profiled has now gained his voice back through the efforts of Scotland-based CereProc.

In an NPR interview, CereProc's Dr. Matthew Aylett explains how Ebert's voice was reconstructed through phoneme mining, sifting through commentaries and other audio recordings from his body of work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (56 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh my. Wow. How beautiful. :) :) :)

Excuse me. There's something in my eyes.
posted by zarq at 4:38 PM on March 2, 2010


In mine too, and it's running down my cheeks.
posted by path at 4:44 PM on March 2, 2010


Amazing and wonderful.

That stuff that got in Zarq's eyes must have gotten in mine too.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:44 PM on March 2, 2010


Holy fuck I'm about to cry.
posted by spicynuts at 4:46 PM on March 2, 2010


This is so fantastic.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:47 PM on March 2, 2010


BP, thank you SO very much for posting this. :)
posted by zarq at 4:49 PM on March 2, 2010


I choked. I love roger. he tweets with the ferocity of a girl a third his age, just in complete sentences.
posted by krautland at 4:51 PM on March 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm surprised and relieved that they actually got it right -- while anybody would be able to discern between this computerized voice and a recording of Ebert speaking, it's so close that Ebert truly can claim to have gotten his (rather distinctive) voice back.

It's really one hell of a gift. I watched this during my lunch break, and I had to fight as hard as I could to hold back tears.
posted by eschatfische at 4:52 PM on March 2, 2010


Oh, wow! This is wonderful! Thank you for posting this.
posted by wiskunde at 4:53 PM on March 2, 2010


This is the first video I've seen of Roger as he is now, and I'm glad because it is such a happy moment for him and his wife. It's great when technology can really come through for somebody the way it has here.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:56 PM on March 2, 2010


It's truly fortunate that thanks to his line of work there are literally thousands of hours of recordings of his voice to mine.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:59 PM on March 2, 2010


Wow. That is unbelievably cool. I adore Roger Ebert and I'm so happy for him.

I don't get why he went back to using the Kidtalk voice at the end, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:59 PM on March 2, 2010


Amazing.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:00 PM on March 2, 2010


Cool. CereProc is such a wonderful company to have come up with this software and Dr. Aylett (and staff's) tireless efforts are to be commended.

So... where can I torrent a copy?
posted by hal9k at 5:02 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I loved that line about how he was critiqued in school for talking too much "and now I still can."

It is great to hear Roger again.
posted by bearwife at 5:02 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's truly fortunate that thanks to his line of work there are literally thousands of hours of recordings of his voice to mine.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:59 PM on March 2 [+] [!]


Unfortunately, as Roger points out, most of those hours are filled with him getting interrupted, spoken over or muddied via background music/noise.

DVD commentaries saved his voice.
posted by basicchannel at 5:02 PM on March 2, 2010


His name should officially be "Roger Ebert, The Best" like it is in that title.
posted by sallybrown at 5:05 PM on March 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Speaking of Roger Ebert, I just came across this incredible post about the author being mentored by Ebert and subsequently betraying him. Ebert comes across as an extremely thoughtful and warm-hearted person.
posted by peacheater at 5:09 PM on March 2, 2010 [35 favorites]


as Roger points out, most of those hours are filled with him getting interrupted

I kind of loved that comment, because he doesn't even have to say who was interrupting him, or why. It brought on so many memories.
posted by tzikeh at 5:09 PM on March 2, 2010


I made the mistake of watching this at work. I lost it just about when his wife did.
posted by tommasz at 5:12 PM on March 2, 2010


I saw Roger Ebert today on Oprah (watched specifically because I knew he was on it) and he debuted the voice reconstruction publicly there. It's off on a few words, of course, noticeably "was" and words with w-sounds. But it is really impressive, and so moving, to see how it lit him up when he used it.

And his wife of many years was absolutely in tears when she first heard it, too.

It was heartbreaking to see him, and how he has changed. He said he will not have reconstruction surgery for his jaw, though it is a possibility: " "No more surgeries for me. I'm not going to talk or eat or drink again. So the surgery would only be to patch my face back together. I don't want to go through that. This is the way I look and my life is happy and productive, so why have any more surgery?... Nobody looks perfect. We have to find peace with the way we look and get on with life."

I love this man.
posted by misha at 5:17 PM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


wow wow wow wow I can't stop crying!!!!
posted by thescientificmethhead at 5:20 PM on March 2, 2010


awesome.

Can Stephen Fry get this done, you know, like insurance or something? In my dotage it would please me to have my invisible digital implants speak to me as Fry or as Ebert.
posted by mwhybark at 5:27 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought they'd never improve on the Arnold Schwarzenegger sound board. I look forward to Youtube videos of teenagers using this technology to make prank movie reviews.
posted by stammer at 5:30 PM on March 2, 2010


That deadspin link up a few comments is gold.
posted by mwhybark at 5:33 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a (very few) recordings of my deceased father, no more than a couple of minutes, and for the past few years I've wondered, off and on, if it would be possible to do something like this so I could hear a bit more of him when I felt like I needed it. The answer, apparently, is no. Even if I had the financial resources, there just isn't enough source material. At this point I think I'm going to take a lesson from the (great) man in question and try to be thankful for what I've got and move on.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:41 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is the lady next to him his wife? She looks young.

Sorry, I don't usually follow the lives of celebrities, I really have no idea.
posted by Malice at 5:41 PM on March 2, 2010


Speaking of Roger Ebert, I just came across this incredible post about the author being mentored by Ebert and subsequently betraying him.

The way he handles the man who betrayed him is awe-inspiring. Big respect for Mr. Ebert.
posted by ColdChef at 5:42 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


LastOfHisKind, I'd often considered keeping phone messages of my parents to listen back on when they pass away. Now I think I might force them to speak into a mic while I make them recite thousands of words so I can replicate their voice when they die.

That sounds creepy, but I don't believe in an afterlife where I'd see them again. It'd be nice to be able to hear them whenever I want before I die.
posted by Malice at 5:44 PM on March 2, 2010


Malice, my advice would be to not worry about the voice synthesis stuff and just make recordings of long conversations with them about stuff you don't really know about. I was stunned when I realized that I had gone my entire life without ever asking questions like "What was high school like for you?"
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:56 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had been reading about this for the past few days and kind of deliberately havent looked at it.
Finally watched it…and yea, it made me get something in my eye as well.
posted by ShawnString at 5:58 PM on March 2, 2010


Is the lady next to him his wife? She looks young.

Everyone seems to forget that he's not that old either. 67 looks a lot older when you're sick.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 6:11 PM on March 2, 2010


Crying.

Goodness it's good to be alive!
posted by humannaire at 6:15 PM on March 2, 2010


Everyone seems to forget that he's not that old either. 67 looks a lot older when you're sick.

She looks much younger than 67, therefore much younger than him. Anyway, just curious.
posted by Malice at 6:18 PM on March 2, 2010


This was really amazing, and like many of you Ebert has become a hero of mine since his illness (I always liked his criticism though, and occasionally I'll search his subsite on the Sun-Times site for all his one star and below reviews, which I recommend you do as well), so I'm just really happy for him. Apart from that, though, I'm also pretty amazed by the quality of text-to-speech now - it's still pretty stilted, but it's come amazingly far since the old Stephen Hawking robot voice (what does Dr. Hawking sound like these days? He has to have a better voice now too, right?).
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:30 PM on March 2, 2010


Gawker has some excerpts from the Oprah Interview up.
posted by Jugwine at 7:05 PM on March 2, 2010


I think Hawking still uses the same computer generated voice. I can't remember where I picked it up, but supposedly it has become somewhat of a trademark of his and he sees no reason to change it now.

As for Ebert, what an incredible person. While it's sad to see him in this shape, his personality is still showing through and his excitement about the technology is clearly evident. It's wonderful that they have access to the necessary audio material to pull this off.

Roger, keep keeping on. You're an inspiration and hero to many. Here's to many wonderful years ahead of amazing work and time spent with loved ones. It is well deserved.
posted by purephase at 7:10 PM on March 2, 2010


That was really wonderful.
posted by graventy at 7:15 PM on March 2, 2010


Roger Ebert is awesome, and I'm glad awesome things happen to him.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:18 PM on March 2, 2010


Amazing. I follow him on twitter (he tweets a lot) and was leery of the new voice he was so hoping for - but it really does sound just right. That said - even with the standard robo-voice, it's not like I thought it'd be. I thought it was more like passing notes, but really, he's so animated and expressive with his eyes and hands as the computer reels off his words that it's just like any conversation.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:24 PM on March 2, 2010


That's just a cool story.
posted by Flex1970 at 7:34 PM on March 2, 2010


It's just amazing how funny and insightful he is. I loved him before, but it really seems like all his trials have made him even more of what he was. Indeed, God bless Roger Ebert.
posted by yhbc at 7:41 PM on March 2, 2010


Even with the few glitches, the voice truly keeps *his* sound, PLUS that somewhere-between-central-Illinois-and-Chicago swagger. Awesome.
posted by notsnot at 8:09 PM on March 2, 2010


This is very cool.

I must also say that despite the changes to his face, in a way it looks like he's smiling all the time, which isn't a bad thing at all.
posted by bwg at 8:14 PM on March 2, 2010


The evident love between Chaz and Ebert is just incredibly heartwarming.
posted by SarahElizaP at 8:28 PM on March 2, 2010


It was a genuine tonic and a pick-me-upper to hear his response to that Esquire interview, and to hear both the matter-of-factness and the wisdom with which he lives his challenges. Stories about cancer at once rivet and unnerve me - the otherness and the gravity of such a disease brings out some primal fears of unknown, menacing, unseen shadows.

And he's lucky to have a protector like Chaz, wise enough to give him this gem:
"Resentment is allowing someone to live rent-free in a room in your head"
which Ebert turns beautifully to apply to self-esteem:
"If we think we have physical imperfections, obsessing about them is only destructive. Low self-esteem involves imagining the worst that other people can think about you. That means they're living upstairs in the rent-free room."
Those two are quote-file keepers.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:39 PM on March 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


Ebert... Oprah!

Oprah... Ebert!


Oprah, Ebert... Uma!
posted by mazola at 9:31 PM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Great. It's official. Now I tear up reading posts about someone other than Mr. Rogers. Thanks, Metafilter. Thanks a lot.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:49 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Okay. I read the Esquire piece, I follow his twitter, I checked out the link. Still dry. Then I saw the Oprah clips. I can't even make it to the second one since I'm too busy mewling. Big ups!
posted by cavalier at 1:58 AM on March 3, 2010


I loved Ebert to begin with, but now I think I have a new hero. Move over, Batman.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:48 AM on March 3, 2010


peacheater: "Speaking of Roger Ebert, I just came across this incredible post about the author being mentored by Ebert and subsequently betraying him. Ebert comes across as an extremely thoughtful and warm-hearted person."

"If you were trying to make a point, I fear you are not in control of your instrument" is one of the best and most charitable ways to sum up almost every shitty thing people have ever written about each other. That's just a fantastic way of cutting to the heart of it. It should replace "everyone needs a hug" as the de facto metatalk motto.
posted by Drastic at 6:57 AM on March 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


"If you were trying to make a point, I fear you are not in control of your instrument" is one of the best and most charitable ways to sum up almost every shitty thing people have ever written about each other. That's just a fantastic way of cutting to the heart of it. It should replace "everyone needs a hug" as the de facto metatalk motto.

I second that emotion.
posted by ColdChef at 11:53 AM on March 3, 2010


They shouldn't have added subtitles. I originally watched the same clip without them and he was perfectly comprehensible.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:42 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Everyone seems to forget that he's not that old either. 67 looks a lot older when you're sick.

She looks much younger than 67, therefore much younger than him. Anyway, just curious.
-- Malice

Not that it matters, but I believe she's in her late 50s. They've been married for about 18 years. She's a former environmental lawyer and judge. Ebert and Oprah dated early in their careers.

Now I sound like I'm hosting Entertainment Tonight.
posted by eye of newt at 10:46 PM on March 3, 2010


Ebert's twittered response to Will Leitch's piece: "A sweet article by a long time friend who did indeed once bring a wince to my fat face. All is forgiven."

Roger Ebert makes me want to be a better person.
posted by craniac at 10:11 AM on March 8, 2010


Roger Ebert makes me want to be a better person.

Agreed. Everytime I see or read anything about him, I realize just how much of a better person I could be if I put my mind to it.
posted by menschlich at 9:07 AM on March 11, 2010


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