The Shaping of a Standard Voice: Sonic and Sociotechnical Imaginaries in Smart Speakers

Domenico Napolitano


This article deals with the issue of sound imaginaries, using artificial voice as a case study. Specifically, it focuses on the project of creating a voice standard associated with the 1980s speech synthesis device DECTalk. Using a media-archaeological methodology which draws on heterogeneous empirical material about technological materialities and discursive representations, the article investigates the imaginary formative principles governing the definition of a vocal sound ideal type such as that incorporated in speech synthesis systems of the ‘80s. Referring to the most recent theories on sonic imagination, the article argues that these formative principles are still at work in current smart speakers, as they refer to the imaginary of a voice “in general”, which recalls ideas of authority, fidelity and transcendence. As the “standard” of artificial voice is an ideal type created at the crossroads between cultural ideas of voice within European philosophical tradition and the techno-scientific knowledge through which voice has been measured, reified and adopted by organizations, the article argues that sonic imaginary can be related to the framework of sociotechnical imaginary theory.


Sonic imaginary; Sociotechnical imaginary | Voice; Speech synthesis; Media archaeology

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