Ever wonder what Darth Vader would sound like if he sang in a chorus? Well now you can listen for yourself — though not in any way you might have expected.
Researchers working at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, have invented musical gloves that can generate a computerized singing voice when hand gestures duplicate the movements of real vocal chords, reports New Scientist.
The purpose of the technology is to help people with speech difficulties to communicate, but the mechanical voice generated by the gloves also sounds a lot like ... well, it sounds like Darth Vader just joined a chorus. You can judge for yourself in the video above, provided by New Scientist.
The gloves were first developed as a mere voice synthesizer; the ability to sing using them is the most recent upgrade. To test them, singers were trained to perform a "duet" using the gloves while they sang. The challenge was to duplicate the sounds of the real singer's voice. Researcher Sidney Fels, who led the team that developed the gloves, said that it takes about 100 hours to learn how to play them.
"It's very hard, it's like trying to do your email while talking on the phone," he said.
Part of what makes them so challenging to learn is that the right and left gloves each perform different duties. The right-hand glove contains motion sensors that detect the opening and closing of the wearer's hand, which symbolizes the opening and closing of the vocal tract. An open vocal tract produces vowels, while a closed tract produces consonant sounds such as "sh" and "zz." Meanwhile, the left hand glove is equipped with buttons that activate stop consonants like "p" and "b."
Wearers control pitch thanks to a set of 3-D position sensors on the right hand, which locate the glove in space. As the hand moves, pitch changes. Volume levels are controlled using a foot pedal.
Tom Mitchell, a lecturer in music systems at the University of the West of England in Bristol, thinks that helping people with speech difficulties is just the beginning. He envisions the gloves someday being used by musicians as a general synthesizer to produce intricate sounds on the fly.
Maybe the gloves will forever change the art of DJing. Perhaps symphony conductors will someday have their own instrument to manipulate, even as their hands still direct the orchestra.
It's fun to imagine the possibilities. But the technology will probably have to develop past the awkward "Darth Vader" effect before any of these predictions can become a reality.