Abbot Mical's talking heads - The website of automatons, automata and androids.

Video extract : 56K or 512 K (with Windows Media Player)
(This extract explains the story of the creation of these automatons).
These automatons were capable to speak like real human beings.

This extract is coming from the film "The Jaquet-Droz androids".
This film and many others about automatons and androids
are available in english version on our online shop.

Until 1780, automatons or androids were able to perform many acts. At this time, Abbot Mical really managed to equip them with speech. Wanting to win the St Petersburg annual competition which was suggested by the Imperial Academy of Sciences, the churchman Abbot Mical made two extraordinary automatons : talking heads which were able to pronounce a certain number of sentences.

The Abbot Mical's two talking heads - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
Abbot Mical's talking heads,
two extraordinary automatons

Placed on a pedestal in a little theatre, a dialogue could began between the two automatons :

-"The King gives peace to Europe.
-Peace crowns the King with glory.
-And peace makes the peoples happy.
-O adorable King, father of your peoples, their happiness shows Europe the glory of your throne."

A report from the Academy of Sciences was signed by Lavoisier and La Place, among others. It described the mechanism of the creation of speech with the following terms : "The heads hid a hollow box, whose different parts were linked by joints and inside which the creator had arranged artificial glottises with different forms on stretched membranes. The air getting through the glottises went and hit the membranes that restored low-pitched, average and high-pitched tones. A sort of very imperfect imitation of the human voice was the result of their combination".

The Academy concluded : "We think that the Academy must applaud the efforts made by Abbot Mical : his machine is ingenious, the work gets him being encouraged and this try, even if imperfect, is still very worthy of the approval of the Academy."

The little theater and the two talking heads - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
The little theater and the two talking heads
two extraordinary automatons

A witness of the epoch also described the automatons: "They are of natural height, very well achieved; they are golden-coloured, that is in bad taste. We can see them next to each other on a sort of little theatre, at the base of which the set of the mechanisms can be seen. During the four sentences they successively articulate, imitating the movement of the lips, they entirely mumble certain words, the tone of their voice is husky and their articulation slow. But despite all these failings, they tell enough things so that and we cannot refuse to give them speech…"

Another witness completed their description : "In the Temple street, in the Marais, there is a work of mechanics that attracts all a crowd of experts… These are two heads made of bronze, which talk and clearly pronounce entire sentences. They are huge and their voice is superhuman…"

"This is not, as you could think, the kind of work that you put here, made at the moment and with chance; this is the fruit of work and genius. For thirty years, Abbot Mical prepared the secret of his work; and if it was possible to follow with the eye all the steps that led him here, if this skilful creator had kept the tries, it would have been undoubtedly a gallery of well interesting mechanics to travel over…"

"M. Mical placed two keyboards on his talking heads. The first is a cylinder which only utters a determined number of sentences, but on which the spaces and prosody of words are correctly written. The other keyboard contains all the sounds and the tones of the French language which are reduced to a small number thanks to an ingenious and particular method of the creator. With a little habit and skill, it would be possible to speak with fingers, as easily as with the tongue, and it would be possible to grant the faces language the speed, rests and all the appearance of a tongue not driven on by passions. The foreigners will choose the Henriade or the Télémaque and will make them recite from one end to the other, by putting them onto the vocal keyboard as we put opera scores onto the ordinary harpsichords."

"And we would not hear the quivering of our elders' harsh articulations.

The Abbot Mical's two talking heads - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
Abbot Mical's two talking heads
Only the talking heads can keep this honorable universality of the French language and reassure it against the instability of the human things, and I dare say it. If we develop them in Europe, these heads will become the dread of all these masters of language, Swisses and Gascons, whose countries are all poisoned and which distort our language among the peoples who love it."

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