Tag Archives: Voice Recognition

Moments that will shock and stun in the story of the late Orion AKA Jimmy Ellis

I had missed the beginning of this documentary about a singer from the south of the United States who’s claim to fame was a singing voice that was naturally and astonishingly similar, even identical, to the voice of the great Elvis Presley. I was fussing over things in the kitchen and not paying 100% attention until there was one jaw-dropping “Oh wow!” moment that stopped me in my tracks. This was the bit where profile photos of Jimmy Ellis and the father of Elvis Presley, Vernon Presley were shown side-by-side. Jimmy had been an adopted, illegitimate child, with a father only listed on his birth certificate as “Vernon”. This wasn’t the only shocking moment in the documentary. Fame and money aren’t the only motivations in entertainers’ careers. There are also groupies.

Do I believe Ellis was Elvis’s half-brother? 150% I do. I’d believe it based on the incredibly similar singing voices and Ellis’ birth certificate alone, but the facial resemblance – that is amazing. This story is a reminder of how sometimes close relatives can look like twins, while at other times they can look like random strangers. Clearly Elvis got his looks from his mother and his voice from his father, and therefore didn’t look much like Ellis. This documentary is also a reminder of the way that extraordinary talents and creative drives can apparently be inherited, coded in DNA to be sent to one child or another like the random results of a throw of a dice. The pattern of apparently inherited desire to sing, along with an incredible singing voice in this documentary reminds me of the apparently inherited talent and drive in ballet dancing in another fascinating real-life mystery of DNA – the story of Somerton Man recounted in the TV series Australian Story, which I have previously written about in this blog.

I recommend this documentary about a third-rate musical career based on an astounding natural talent that cannot be dismissed, even though in many ways it is a sad story. Maybe this is not a good choice of documentary for any viewers who have not come to terms with a childhood in foster care.

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King


The man they thought was Elvis
The strange tale of Jimmy Ellis and one of the greatest hoaxes in music history.


Doppelganger doco on Nine tonight


My thoughts after viewing:

Not the most entertaining or interesting documentary that I’ve seen.

The pairs of “doppelgangers” featured on the show highlight the difference between popular or conventional notions of a doppelganger and the concept as I use it, being a super-recognizer. I didn’t find it clear how the pairs of supposedly same-looking people had been discovered, but I think some pairs discovered each other by accident by living in the same town or doing stand-up comedy  in the same festival and being mistaken for the other, while other pairs used some online face recognition tool to identify their “double” in another part of the world. In the matching methods, therefore, some pairs were matched by people looking at live, dynamic people, while other matches were made by technology looking at still images of faces. Not surprisingly, one pair who were matched with face shots and technology were of very different heights in person and not much of a match for skin colour or general facial resemblance.

All of the pairs on the show were matched in genders, age, skin colour, hair colour, hair texture and even non-biological aspects of appearance such the use of glasses to see with and even similar style of glasses worn. Throughout the show the scientist studying the pairs, using computer technology to compare static images or 3D computer models of the pairs faces, compared the similarity scores given for the matches to those typically found in identical twins, so the unspoken concept of the doppelganger used in the show was for the pairs to look so similar as to be identical, but none of the pairs had similarity scores in the same range as identical twins, overall. As soon as our daughter and I started watching the show we could pick that none were identical twins; there were always differences in faces that could be spotted in an instant that wouldn’t be there in identical twins. This concept of a twin-like doppelganger is entirely different to the kind of uncanny similarity that I occassionally spot between people, which is much more like a family or genetic similarity, as in close relatives or people who have the same genetic disorder that alterns appearance, but often neither of these explaantions are obvious. The doppelganger phenomenon that I spot can go across ages, genders, races and skin tones, but often the personalities are uncannily similar, in the same way that their faces are similar. My concept of “doppelganger” violates social norms, in that it suggests that there are more fundamental similarities between people than sharing the same gender or race or age, which many people might find odd or insulting.

The resemblance that I sometimes see between apparent strangers is in multiple aspects of the face that are remarkably similar in shape and appearance, which can include the hairline, the texture of the hair, beard-borderline pattern, the pattern of the teeth and jaw width, along with things that can’t be recorded in a static photograph, such as the way a person speaks, pronounces particular phonemes in a way that is independent of an accent, the rhythm and speed of the way they speak, unique or distinctive facial expressions and the context in which they are made, which might seen incongruous, and similar gestures or postures, such as the angle at which the head is usually held, and the overall personality. My concept of “doppelgangers” goes way beyond simple visual matching of two similar but non-identical images of faces, which is a task that even a machine could be designed to do. My concept of the doppelganger takes in the whole package of sound, speech, movement and facial appearance, and none of those elements alone are interesting or remarkable, because it is the matching of the same convergence of these types of characteristics in two different people that I notice. I believe this is a reflection of a biological similarity between people, and I think there was a hint of a similar sense of biological similarity at work in the documentary. Part-way through the doco pairs were shown givng saliva samples so that they could be compared for genetic similarities, in a similar process to the popular geneological services that aim to identify distant relatives by DNA. While one pair had remarkably similar racial profiles, it appears that only one (other) pair turned out to be actually related, and they were the pair that I felt I’d have the most trouble mixing up if I met them both, because of their similar overall movement style, voices and personalities and appearance. They were both stand-up comedians, which must count as a peronality similarity. This pair nevertheless did not receive a high score from the computer for facial similarity, but tellingly, they did receive the highest similarity score when rated by a crowd of people. Sadly, the fact that human rating managed to identify an objectively real genetic similarity in one of the pairs appeared to be ignored, in the documentary while the similarity ratings of static images by a computer algorithm was spoken of as an objective fact. Once again, it appears that the common infatuation with and awe of technology is a barrier to expanding scientific knowedge of identfying other people.

A family with multiple prosopagnosics and a super? That’s interesting.

Daily Mail article about K C Andrew, a British lady with prosopagnosia:


Some quotes from the article are very thought-provoking:

“I recognise faces in animated things. I often describe people as looking like cartoons, actually – drawings are so much easier for me,’ she explained.”

Researchers could test that, no doubt. Could this be a clue to the exact nature of what does not work in face recognition of people with prosopagnosia, or just in this case in particular?

As is also the case in other personal accounts of living with prosopagnosia, K C Andrew uses other visible characteristics of people to identify them, such as gait and mannerisms, and I think some info given in the article hints that Ms Andrew could have developed a superior ability in memorizing and identifying these things. Should we look for unknown special abilites in prosopagnosia? Might it be linked to some specific superiority in perception as in colour-blindness?


Making children’s television even more annoying

The Annoying Orange is now a TV show, “The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange”, which is currently being broadcast on ABC3. It’s another example of a personified object and personified foodstuff in a comedy show. Why do at least some of us love to see food with human characteristics in sculpture or funny TV shows? What’s the surreal appeal of things that behave like people? Are these quirks of popular culture in any way related to personification synaesthesia or the mental modelling of faces, genders and personalities that gives rise to facial recognition?

Some interesting aspects of the Annoying Orange’s TV show are that it highlights two facts about the visual recognition of people – that dentition can be used to visually identify individuals just like faces can, and that there is one aspect of dentition that can in many cases indicate the gender of the person who owns the teeth. In other words, dentition displays sexual dimorphism, and I suspect that while the Annoying Orange has a male voice that matches his male teeth, one of the other fruity characters in his TV show might not have the correct gender of dentition for their voice and character. Do you know which aspect of human dentition sometimes displays sexual dimorphism?

Annoying Orange  http://annoyingorange.com/

Dr Marlene Behrmann explains prosopagnosia

I’ve come across a YouTube video in which Dr Marlene Behrmann talks in an interview from last year about prosopagnosia and gives an authoritative explanation of what it is. She seems to have a slight South African accent.

While watching Dr Behrmann discussing the differences between the typical eye movements of prosopagnosics and regular study subjects while looking at faces I wondered whether the typical eye movements of super-recognizer study subjects might be found to be similar or disssimilar to the eye movements of normal people with average face recognition ability.

Peng, Cynthia Marlene Behrmann – prosopagnosia. goCognitive. uploaded Sep 25, 2011.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z9PGrgPlYw&feature=related

Interesting stuff from the New York Times from late last year about prosopagnosia and another condition that I’d not heard of – phonagnosia

Have We Met? Tracing Face Blindness to Its Roots by Karen Barrow New York Times December 26, 2011   http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/health/views/face-and-voice-recognition-may-be-linked-in-the-brain-research-suggests.html?_r=2

this is the study mentioned in the above article:

Direct Structural Connections between Voice- and Face-Recognition Areas. Helen Blank, Alfred Anwander, and Katharina von Kriegstein Journal of Neuroscience. 7 September 2011,31(36): 12906-12915; doi: 10.1523/​JNEUROSCI.2091-11.2011  http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/36/12906.abstract?sid=2704774c-0cbd-4342-9b75-639b388b99f9

and this is the video featuring Dori Frame that goes with the article:

Faceless produced by Almudena Toral New York Times December 2011 http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/12/26/health/100000000958226/faceless.html

Free full-text journal papers about defining and redefining synaesthesia!

Thank you British Journal of Psychology. I find this stuff interesting. I hope my horribly neglected readers will also find the February 2012 issue interesting. It has Dr Julia Simner’s most interesting paper and two papers in response to it, one by the leading US synesthesia researcher David Eagleman and and another by synaesthesia researchers Cohen Kadosh and Terhune, plus Simner’s response to the responses. So if you still think synaesthesia is just crossed senses, do take a look.

For those of us with an interest in face recognition as well as synaesthesia, there is also a free paper titled “Integration of faces and voices, but not faces and names, in person recognition”. Happy reading!