Navigation and the voice-operated control system: the voices of the S-Class
Stuttgart
Aug 26, 2009
The voices of the S-Class: Team of ladies with a male solo
  • Each language has its own voice
  • Professional speakers as dialogue partners and guides
  • The Mercedes voices can also be heard on TV and radio
Around one dozen female speakers – and one male – guide Mercedes drivers to their destinations. Their voices are heard from the loudspeakers during dialogues with the voice-operated control system, and when the navigation system gives its route instructions. Every major language has its own voice at Mercedes-Benz - and English even has two, to distinguish between British and American pronunciation.
Turkeyis another exception. Though Mercedes customers almost everywhere
in the world are happy to receive their route instructions from a female voice, Turkish drivers prefer the voice to be male. Selçuk Birdal studied drama as well as training as a speaker, therefore he is not only employed as a radio presenter in his home country, but also for synchronised cinema films and TV series. At first he was surprised to be the only male in the Mercedes voice team, but he certainly has no objection. On the contrary: "Having so many nice female colleagues is a lot of fun."
Cristina Mambretti is a young Italian with a really great voice. As a trained singer, she is currently making a name for herself in the Italian classical music and jazz scene. She sings with Eric van Aro, the son of Caterina Valente, on the new album "Desert Motel", has appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival with the Swiss artist Marco Cortesi, and recently showed on regional TV in northern Italy that she not only has a voice, but also acting talent. Around four years ago she was selected as a speaker for the Mercedes navigation system and the voice-operated control system of the S-Class. "I took part in the auditions and was chosen from a large number of applicants – according to the motto: "Italy is looking for the Mercedes voice", she recalls.
Spanish: Zoraya López speaks two languages and teaches oriental dance
In addition to her profession as a speaker, Zoraya López has two great passions: drama and dance. When she is not sitting at the microphone in a sound studio recording voiceovers for films or safety announcements for airline companies, she works as a dance teacher. Born in Spain, she has even taken specialist training as a teacher of oriental dance, and is therefore an expert bellydancer.
Zoraya López came to Germany 30 years ago, and now lives in Berlin. Which is why she has a special language talent: in addition to perfect German she is able to deliver German with a Spanish accent or Spanish with a German accent. She has already demonstrated this versatility on TV, playing a role in the long-running "Lindenstraße" series. She is also the synchronised speaker for one of the stars in the American series "Navy CIS".
German: Gabriele Libbach is a female detective in "CSI New York"
Ornella Muti and Lara Croft are two famous names in the biography of Gabriele Libbach. Now living in Hamburg, she has given both screen heroines their German voices on several occasions. Today Gabriele Libbach is mainly to be heard in the TV series "CSI New York", where she does the voiceover for detective Stella Bonasera.
Since the market launch of the C-Class in 2007, the pleasant, friendly voice of Gabriele Libbach has been heard on board all new Mercedes passenger cars equipped with an ex factory navigation system. This means that day-after-day, many hundreds of thousands of drivers trust her to guide them to their destinations. In the voice-operated control system which Mercedes-Benz includes as standard with the current Audio 50 APS and COMAND APS systems, German-speaking drivers likewise 'chat' with Gabriele Libbach.
Hanover-born Gabriele Libbach already began her career as a professional speaker as a teenager. "I was twelve years old, and mainly did synchronised voiceovers for boys' voices – somehow that suited me well." Later she was commissioned for classic radio plays such as "Hanni and Nanni“" or "Commander Perkins", and also synchronised a supporting role in the cult TV series "Starship Enterprise".
Compared to roles like this, navigation instructions such as "Left turn ahead" or "Please take the centre lane" are a complete linguistic contrast for this trained teacher. "But that is what I like about this profession – there are always new and interesting jobs to do", she says.
Danish: Jette Sieversten, the Shakespearean actress
Jette Sophie Sievertsen from Copenhagen beat more than 20 other candidates in the auditions, and was chosen as the Mercedes speaker for Danish. Until the mid-80s she performed in plays by Shakespeare and Molière, then appeared in various films and TV series. She is now the principal lady in a cabaret show with satirical scripts by the author Poul Henningsen.
She has also demonstrated her acting and linguistic versatility in the synchronisation studio, where she has lent her voice to well-known cartoon films such as "The Lion King" or "Chicken Run". A recent job for an advertising film by a famous hair-care brand was equally interesting: "I was asked to synchronise Penelope Cruz."
Dutch: Constanze Kamps guides visitors through museums and exhibitions
"Zegt de plaats en de straat." A driver hearing this request from the loudspeakers of the S-Class, and entering the desired destination, is talking to Constanze Kamps. She comes from the Netherlands, but worked in Cologne for many years in the editorial offices of "Deutschlandfunk" and "Deutsche Welle", which also broadcast programmes in Dutch until the end of the 90s. Today Constanze Kamps is a sought-after speaker for advertising and industrial films by well-known companies, and also records for the audio-guides used by visitors to museums and exhibitions. "A very interesting job", she says. "I learn an awful lot when doing this."
Portuguese: Fátima de Oliveira Baptista used to present TV shows
Radio was also the professional home of Maria de Fátima de Oliveira Baptista.
She presented her own shows on Portuguese radio for around 17 years, and also appeared in TV shows as a presenter. She is now self-employed, has homes in Lisbon and Washington and organises PR events and shows on behalf of her clients. She was discovered as a Mercedes voice via the Internet: her website has a number of sample speech clips which the developers of the navigation system found particularly attractive. So she was invited to Stuttgart to speak the Portuguese texts for the COMAND system.
Russian: Margarita Kalz broadcasts on short wave
Anybody wanting to hear Margarita Kalz must switch to short wave and tune in to the Russian programme broadcast by Deutsche Welle. This is where she presents news programmes, music and lifestyle magazines which are popular in Russia, White Russia and the Caucasus region. "We present information about Germany", says Moscow-born Margarita Kalz. "We broadcast news and background reports in Russian, report on the German showbusiness and celebrity scene, and play current popular music. This means 14 hours of programmes every day."
Margarita Kalz was no stranger to the studio even before moving to Cologne, as she used to work as a news presenter for a Russian TV station and was on-screen almost every day. She has a simple explanation for the success of Mercedes-Benz in her home country, and she presents it with typical Russian humour: "Those are all my fans and friends. They buy the cars because they want to hear my voice again."
Chinese: Zhang Danhong works for the radio
At Deutsche Welle, Margarita Kalz practically works next door to Zhang Danhong, who is likewise employed there as an editor. Zhang Danhong studied German in Beijing, and came to Germany 20 years ago to continue her studies at the University of Cologne. Deutsche Welle was looking for China specialists, so her career as a radio journalist began.
Today the 43 year-old is the Mercedes voice that guides Chinese drivers to their destinations. "We made the first recordings for the navigation system just over three years ago", recalls Zhang Danhong, who was pleased to be given the task. "Previously there were only English-language instructions in navigation systems. The fact that Mercedes has developed a separate version for China shows how important this market has become."
French: Christine Ott was a dancer at the "Lido" in Paris
Christine Ott has a lot to tell when talking about her life and professional career. The latter began in 1977, at the world-famous "Lido" and "Moulin Rouge" variety theatres in Paris, where she spent five years appearing on-stage twice each day. "As a go-go girl with a feather boa, straps and stockings", says French-born Christine Ott. "A tough job, and very good training." In 1982 this helped her to secure a position in the famous Reinhild Hoffmann dance theatre, which initially performed in Bremen, then in Bochum until 1995. This was where her voice was also discovered, and Christine Ott began a second career as a speaker which led her to Mercedes-Benz in 1999.
"I enjoy working in the sound studio, although it is often harder than one thinks because the texts always have to be spoken and repeated with the same intonation. This takes a lot of discipline – and this is where my dance and drama training stands me in good stead", says the Paris-born Mercedes voice, who now lives in the Ruhr region where she works as an ergotherapist. Last year she once again showed her acting talent in the play "nacht.poème" directed by Claudia Lichtblau. The performance was at the "Kokerei Zollverein" in Essen.
English: Claire Ashworth works for a bank in the City of London
Claire Ashworth is the "natural talent" among the voices of the S-Class. She has no training as a speaker, and has never been an actress or radio presenter. In fact this Englishwoman comes from a quite different sector, as a she is a team leader for a large bank in the City of London. A banker with a beautiful voice? "Well, I suppose so," she says. "At any rate I was chosen from quite a number of other candidates, and offered this interesting part-time job."
Two to three times each year, Claire Ashworth leaves her workplace by the Thames for a few days and flies to Stuttgart to record new takes for the navigation and voice-operated control system. "My parents always insisted that I speak clearly, with no regional accent. Now this is obviously paying off", says Claire Ashworth, though she admits that making the recordings can sometimes be very tiring. "Everything must always be said in an absolutely neutral way, with as little emphasis as possible – completely 'undressed'.”
Sound technology: driving to the sound of beautiful voices
These and many other subtleties during the recording sessions for LINGUATRONIC and the navigation system are watched over by sound engineer Peter Hardt from Jankowski Soundfabrik in Esslingen. He has done this job for Mercedes-Benz for many years, and knows exactly what is required. "The most important rule is to speak with the same intonation all the time, for in the car the system almost instantly assembles the individual words, phrases, letters or numbers into the route guidance instructions and information", Peter Hardt explains.
During the recording work, each of the thousands of "takes" is individually saved and encoded, so that the COMAND system's computer is rapidly able to access the relevant command rapidly as the situation requires, adding other information to it if necessary. Peter Hardt: "The end result has to sound immediate and natural – as if the speaker were sitting in the car, next to the driver."
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