Hear a “DNA-Based Prediction of Nietzsche’s Voice:” First Attempt at Simulating Voice of a Dead Person


Whether they sub­mit to his mighty philo­soph­i­cal influ­ence, resist it with all their own might, or fall some­where in between, every­one who’s read the pro­nounce­ments of Friedrich Niet­zsche (find his ebooks here) rec­og­nizes his voice — well, his tex­tu­al voice, that is. Hav­ing died in 1900 after spend­ing the last decade of his life in a men­tal break­down, the author of Thus Spake Zarathus­tra and Beyond Good and Evil has an excuse for not leav­ing behind much in the way of audio mate­r­i­al. But love Niet­zsche or hate him, a read­er has to won­der: what did the guy actu­al­ly sound like?

Here to sati­ate our curios­i­ty come Flavia Mon­tag­gio, Patri­cia Mon­tag­gio, and Imp Kerr, authors of the Inves­tiga­tive Genet­ics paper “DNA-based pre­dic­tion of Niet­zsche’s voice,” which sup­pos­ed­ly offers a sci­en­tif­ic means of doing just that. “We col­lect­ed trace amounts of cel­lu­lar mate­r­i­al (Touch DNA) from books that belonged to the philoso­pher Friedrich Niet­zsche,” reads the abstract, which goes on to describe the gath­er­ing of Niet­zsche-relat­ed data even­tu­al­ly “con­vert­ed into bio-mea­sures that were used to 3D-print a vocal tract and lar­ynx through which phona­tion was organ­i­cal­ly gen­er­at­ed.” The result, after run­ning every­thing through a series of text-to-speech sim­u­la­tions: “the first attempt at sim­u­lat­ing the voice of a deceased per­son”:

It all seems legit, right? Or maybe you Ger­man-speak­ers out there will sus­pect some­thing fishy, start­ing with the unlike­ly name of Imp Kerr. It actu­al­ly belongs to “a Swedish-French artist liv­ing in New York City, most­ly known for her fake Amer­i­can Appar­el adver­tise­ment cam­paign,” or so reads the Wikipedia page quot­ed by a Lan­guage Log post on the project. “I have no idea whether any­thing in the Wikipedia arti­cle about Imp Kerr is true,” writes author Mark Liber­man, “but it’s clear from inter­nal evi­dence that the alleged Inves­tiga­tive Genet­ics arti­cle is a piece of per­for­mance art.”

Liber­man breaks down the paper’s humor­ous ele­ments, from its “many seg­ments that dis­play qua­si-sci­en­tif­ic ter­mi­nol­o­gy in mean­ing­less or con­tra­dic­to­ry ways” to its sim­ple inabil­i­ty to “restrain a cer­tain tell­tale play­ful­ness” (as when it deals with a res­o­nance “low­er than expect­ed in regards of Nietzsche’s robust mandibles”). All this may remind you of the famous hoax where­in physi­cist Alan Sokal pub­lished a paper­ful of sheer non­sense in a respect­ed cul­tur­al-stud­ies jour­nal. Or you may think of the film above, which pur­ports, ques­tion­ably, to show Niet­zsche’s last days. It just goes to show that, if your ideas live on, you live on — or your read­ers will try to make you do so.

via The New Inquiry/Leit­er Reports

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Dig­i­tal Niet­zsche: Down­load Nietzsche’s Major Works as Free eBooks

Down­load Wal­ter Kaufmann’s Lec­tures on Niet­zsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre & Mod­ern Thought (1960)

Human, All Too Human: 3‑Part Doc­u­men­tary Pro­files Niet­zsche, Hei­deg­ger & Sartre

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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