The World Inside the Computer
Fred D'lgnazio, Associate Editor
Boy Shoppin' With Taunnie Howery
Taunnie Howery is about to release her first pop single. The name of the single, "Boy Shoppin'," will also be the name of Taunnie's first LP, to be released later this fall. Taunnie wrote and recorded "Boy Shoppin' " for her older sister Shanna, 15. "It's about girls going out on Friday nights looking for gorgeous guys," says Taunnie. "I wrote it for Shanna; she's kind of like that."
Taunnie is only 12 years old, but she has been making music for a long time. Her parents bought her a piano when she was only 2 years old. At age 3-1/2, Taunnie composed her first song, and she has been writing music ever since. She still plays the piano, but now she adds music from an electronic organ, drum machine, electric guitar, and several keyboard synthesizers.
Taunnie's dad, Clint, has built her a professional recording studio in the garage that connects to the back of their house. The family laundry room has become a studio control room. Taunnie has wanted to record her own album since she was 6 years old, but this seemed impossible until now. Not only was she just one person, amidst dozens of highly technical machines, but she was also blind. How could a blind child operate her own recording studio and record her own songs?
Taunnie and her parents didn't give up. Clint joined with Robert Artusy, a programmer who was working with blind people at the University of California at Berkeley, on a voice I/O system for computers. Together the two of them created the Pro Inovator MKI—a talking, musical computer that a blind person can control by giving verbal commands. Clint set up a Pro Inovator in Taunnie's garage studio, and Taunnie went to work composing and recording "Boy Shoppin'."
Who Needs A Keyboard?
Taunnie can control the entire studio from one location. She doesn't have to get up and try to find buttons or read a screen. She doesn't even need a keyboard. According to Taunnie, "It just gets in my way."
Taunnie talks to the computer and tells it settings for her musical instruments. The computer talks back and tells her the status of everything in the room. She uses an array of foot pedals to remotely operate multitrack recorders, mixers, and other devices in the control room. By singing through a delay box, Taunnie can harmonize with her own voice, create different voices, and give her voices special effects, reverberations, and echoes.
The heart of Taunnie's studio is the Pro Inovator. It's based on an IBM PC-compatible computer with a 48-channel, 16-track MIDI interface, a 20-megabyte hard disk drive and 640K of RAM. With this system, which costs less than $2000, Taunnie can mix together 32 musical instruments in any combination.
The voice recognition and speech synthesis software built into the Pro Inovator is the product of four years of effort by Robert Artusy and a dedicated group of blind people. Together they created something that is far more than a talking computer. According to Artusy, "My team of blind consultants worked very hard to help me design a product that would meet a blind person's needs. First, it had to be affordable, since the average blind person makes less than $3500 a year. Second, it had to run commercial software and use off-the-shelf hardware products. Third, it had to enable a blind or physically challenged person to review anything on the computer screen. Last, it had to be part of a lifelong learning and productivity system for blind people."
Not Only For Music
By using a DECTalk stand-alone speech synthesizer, Artusy was able to create an understandable computer voice with a 25,000-word vocabulary at a fraction of the cost of a digitized speech system. The entire product—including synthesizer, voice recognition and synthesis software, and cable—costs less than $1,000. "A blind person can take this equipment, hook it up to an IBM-compatible computer at home, school, or work," says Artusy. "He or she can do word processing, create databases and spreadsheets, and do anything else people normally do with computers. With this system a person can hold down a computer-related job or go to high school or college."
After her first album is released, Taunnie Howery is looking forward to additional challenges. "My biggest goal in life," says Taunnie, "is to reach people through music." To that end, she has appeared on the TV program "That's Incredible" and worked with Dudley Moore and Christina Crawford on charity benefits for abused and neglected children. She and her mother Diane are now putting together a band composed entirely of disadvantaged people. "We'll show physically challenged people you can do great things if you just make up your mind and go for it."
For more information about Robert Artusy's voice recognition/speech synthesis system, write Enable Talking Software, 1510 E-4 Walnut Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709, or call 415/540-0389. For more information about the Pro Inovator computer, write Professional Innovations, 2828 Cochran Street, Suite 284, Simi Valley, CA 93063, or call 805/581–2078.