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Professor David M Howard's why

Professor David M Howard's why

Professor David M Howard FREng | Head of the Department of Electronic Engineering

“My why is… human voice production, we all have a voice but few know much about how it works; it’s a fascinating subject!”

david m howard my why

The evolution of human voice production alongside human hearing is hugely intriguing and there are many questions to explore and answer. My research explores human voice production in the context of both speech and singing, bringing in what is known about human hearing as appropriate.

As humans we need to communicate with each other all the time. Speech and singing are part of a core communication channel for us and the ability to communicate complex ideas, thoughts and emotions is basic to human existence. Losing your voice either temporally or permanently is hugely debilitating. Voice research supports medical work in speech therapy and voice rehabilitation, in human-machine vocal communication and in recreating the sound of the past.

The voice is highly expressive and used every day at work and at home, and singing, whether as a soloist or within a choir, is an activity that gives pleasure to many, whether as performers or as listeners. The acoustic output from the vibrating vocal folds provides voice pitch in speech and singing which is a vital part of our vocal communication channel. Pitch carries emotional content that is vital to our perception of more subtle aspects of communication such as whether the other person is relaxed, desperate, angry or loving. A better understanding of these areas will lead to improved voice training regimes that could incorporate mobile and other feedback devices.

One novel way of exploring voice is via my Vocal Tract Organ, a new musical instrument that I’ve designed using magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the human throat/mouth for different vowels that are excited acoustically with a larynx-like 'buzz' via a loudspeaker. This is enhancing our understanding of voice production, and has even had new musical compositions created for it! I am currently looking at synthesising the vocal sounds of a 3000 year old Egyptian Mummy based on MRI of his throat and mouth on the Vocal Tract Organ.

Studying Electronic Engineering at Royal Holloway

At Royal Holloway we are connecting cutting-edge research and teaching in communications, nanotechnology, music and media technology, human factors and signal processing in a curriculum that fosters the creative side of electronic engineering applications. As a student you’ll have the opportunity to learn through hands-on project based activities to prepare for industry in an area with excellent career prospects.

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