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Catching Up with the Voice of Macintosh: Fred

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Some voices are so unique that you can identify them immediately: Sean Connery, James Earl Jones, and Bruno Kirby spring to mind. Then there are voices that are equally unique, but not as well known in popular circles. During a recent trip, I was working on my PowerBook in the Memphis, Tennessee airport when I heard a familiar man’s voice, low and with an unmistakable cadence. Mustering my courage and with my PowerBook in hand, I approached the man – in his mid-50s, dressed in jeans and a black blazer – and asked, “Excuse me, are you Fred?” A somewhat embarrassed grin crossed his face, as he immediately ascertained why I had recognized him. “Yes,” he replied, “I’m that Fred.”

That Fred is the man whose voice speaks to Macintosh users everywhere. Many years ago, Fred Cooper was tapped to utter the Mac’s first words: after Steve Jobs pulled the original Macintosh from within a canvas bag, the machine said, “Hello. I am Macintosh. It sure is great to get out of that bag.” Here’s a transcript of my conversation with Fred; you can listen to the original recording at the second link below.

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TidBITS: How did you first become involved with the Macintosh team?

Fred: It was quite random, really. I answered my phone one day and didn’t understand the person on the other end. It turns out they were in Bangladesh! I then got another call from some guy asking about the call. That guy was Woz, Steve Wozniak. He said he liked my voice and asked if I could help out some friends of his.

TidBITS: Which friends were those?

Fred: Members of the original Macintosh team. Steve Jobs wanted the computer to speak at its introduction, but they couldn’t get the speech synthesizer working reliably. So I met with them at Apple, and I recorded that line about getting out of the bag.

TidBITS: So they used your voice as the basis of the speech synthesis?

Fred: No, that was my voice that everyone heard! I think they degraded the recording a little, but it was actually just a tape queued to play when Steve lifted the bag. Later on, they fixed the problems with the speech synthesizer code, and used my voice as the basis for the Fred voice on Macs today.

TidBITS: Is it strange to hear your own voice? I notice that you use a TiBook.

Fred: I can’t listen to my own voice. I prefer the Victoria voice. I always think of my computer as a woman anyway. And, I met Victoria once… a very nice, beautiful woman.

TidBITS: Did you ever expect that your voice would become so popular? I’ve heard it in other things, such as Radiohead’s song “Fitter, Happier,” and of course Stephen Hawking’s computerized voice.

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Fred: The Radiohead thing was just a fluke. I spent maybe half an hour recording that, and at the time it made no sense. But when the song was mixed, it really came together. As for Dr. Hawking, I’m proud to have been the basis for his system. When I hear him speak, I don’t even hear myself any more, his ideas are so unique. But my wife likes to think that I’m the one talking about time and space occasionally.

TidBITS: I see that your plane is about to embark. Thanks for taking some time to talk with TidBITS.

Fred: Thank you! Keep up the good work.

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