Thursday, 30 July 2015

Voice Recognition

I am not very good with visual things – arguably a problem for someone trying to be a writer who invents worlds, aliens and spaceships, but I get by. At first this seems odd give my strange super-power of recognising actors... hey, the guy on the left, we've seen in him something else... wait... episode five... Raiders of the Lost Car Keys... As super-powers go it lacks something, but my wife finds it amazing.

How about a concrete example – an actor called Barry Corbin. If you Google him, he's been in lots of things, but I have only seen two or three. We just happened to be watching re-runs of the MASH tv series, the first time I had seen it since I was a kid. There was Barry Corbin in his forties and I just knew we had seen him in something else... oh yes... a much more recent role – the same guy in his seventies. The face was different, the hair was different but the voice was the same.

Confession time – I am a Babylon 5 fan. We both watched it the first time with our old VHS doing its best with the dire picture quality (our house at the time was in a really poor reception area). Now, down in the garage, there is a box of commercial VHS, almost the complete set because 'The Works' were selling them off. We boxed them up because they were getting a bit frayed and then the VHS machine died. In the house is the complete DVD box set, less shelf-space, better picture quality... you get the picture – we do enjoy Bablyon 5. I could start writing lists of the reasons why I like it, but let's go with the odd one, the voices. Not metaphorically but the actual, people talking sort of voices.

The cast, both regular and guest, was packed with the most wonderful voices. The obvious pair to pick out first are Peter Jurasik and the late Andreas Katsulas – two powerful voices, not pretty voices but commanding, expressive and deeply memorable. There is no mistaking that the one-armed man from The Fugitive is the voice under the latex and make-up of G'Kar.

However, it is the guest stars and supporting roles where the voices really come out. The first time I saw W Morgan Sheppard, and heard him chanting alien babble, it made my spine tingle. He doesn't have a pretty voice, but one that grabs you, a demand to sit up and take notice. A year later he was back, almost unrecognisable in a different configuration of latex, but quite unmistakable with that voice.

I am in danger of writing a list at this point because Babylon 5 was simply packed with fabulous, powerful and utterly memorable voices. Just writing this more examples pop up in my head. I am hopeless at remembering peoples' names, but perhaps the point is an inability to associate names and faces. Voices seem to be different, or at least the ones that make an impression.

And the reason I started down this train of thought... Faran Tahir and that familiar conversation: I know we've seen that guy in something else. Well, yes we had, but the real point is that I had heard him in something else, a beautiful voice that just sticks in my mind.

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