Manchester

Bolton man with motor neurone disease 'banks' his voice

A man from Bolton who has motor neurone disease (MND) is recording his words so his baby son will be able to hear his voice.

Laurence Brewer was diagnosed with MND - a progressive condition that damages the nervous system - in 2008.

Mr Brewer, 43, has already lost much of his mobility. Concerned that his speech could be next, he went online and discovered a speech synthesis programme called ModelTalker which allows him to record his speech patterns.

The driving force behind it is Mr Brewer's 13-month-old son, Stan.

"At the moment, if my voice goes in the next six months he might not recognise me," said Mr Brewer.

"But, in five years time, if I have the voice banked he can hear what I sounded like or an idea of what I sounded like. So it's a memory."

Range of dialects

One of the most well-known people with MND is Professor Steven Hawking, who uses a voice synthesiser which has a US accent.

Since then, technology has moved on and there is now a range of voices and dialects to choose from.

But Mr Brewer and his partner Dani are hopeful they can preserve his real voice for the sake of their baby son.

Mr Brewer, who works for the University of Salford, now spends his weekends and evenings recording his voice.

"It's not word-perfect and I imagine that the final voice will be a bit like a Lancastrian dalek which makes me smile quite a lot," he said.

"But I quite like that idea that Stan will hear that and it'll be part of me and part of my cultural identity."

Dr Sarah Creer of the University of Sheffield, has spent years researching the use of personalised speech synthesisers.

She said: "When you have this database, the recordings are chopped into smaller units and then you can recombine those units to make new utterances.

"You will then actually be able to say anything at all that you wanted to say by recombining those units together. "

James Baker, care adviser at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said it was a great step forward.

"For some people with MND, loss of speech can be one of the hardest things to come to terms with.

"Voice banking is an exciting area and, as the technology improves, it may allow people to retain their voice that MND has cruelly taken away."

You can watch Mr Brewer's story on Inside Out North West, BBC One, Monday 7 March at 1930 GMT.

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