Judith Ouimet
Matthew McLauchlin

Now you can put a face to the voice!

Judith Ouimet is a freelance voice-over actress. When the Télécité system was first installed, the STCUM approached her and asked her to record the station name announcements. (Later voice announcements were recorded by actress Michèle Deslauriers.)

I got the chance to interview her on 12 March 2002, and I was able to find out about her work for the metro, in her own words.

I'm Judith Ouimet, I do voice-overs; I've been doing that job for fifteen years or more, and I was approached to do the metro voice, the announcements in the metro stations, I think eight years ago.

Q. Who got in touch with you?
At that time, people in the STCUM, the commercial production people, in-house people.

Q. Were you free-lancing at that time, or were you working for a particular company?
At the beginning I was working as an in-house voice [actor] for TQS, Télévision Quatre Saisons. I worked with them for at least five years. Then it came apart, the commercial production. All the producers that were hired there had to start their own little business. I was freelance then, and they hired me. They said, 'You were the voice on TQS; we're going to hire you, offer you jobs and things,' so I just went on and on and on. And then one day I was freelance, and someone called me to do the metro voices.

Q. How did they find out about you?
I have no idea. (laughter) I'm sorry to tell you this. You know, your name goes around, I guess, and someone heard about me. ...I was the only one, almost, doing voice[-overs], all the commercials, all the promotions, so somehow my name went around.

Q. So people who were watching TQS around that time might recognize your voice.
Yes, exactly. Yes, they would.

Q. How long did it take? What was the process like?
They explained to me that it was very new and that it was something they wanted to install in the metro trains. Everything was new, so they didn't know exactly what it was going to be like, but they knew that they wanted a voice - they knew the style of the voice. So they asked me to do tests. My voice had to be filtered through a special machine. My voice was perfect for them, they found out. They were [concerned] about that because you couldn't go too low. I had to be midrange, because I had to have a voice that would fit in the system. If it was too high or too low, it wouldn't sound good.

Q. What range is your singing voice? Contralto?
[Yes.] (laughs) So I had to have the voice for that, and they did tests and it worked.

Q. How many takes did it take to do each station?
We went into a studio and recorded for about eight hours, all day. It went this way: you see all the names of the metro stations, and all the names of the streets.

Q. The streets?
It was two things altogether: it was the metro, and all the bus stops.

Q. Oh, Tel-bus?
[Yes], Tel-bus, I did that also. So the way it works is that you have sheets, and it's written the name of whatever you have to say, and you have to say it in three forms: like a question, with a period, and with a comma. So you have to end it differently three times, every word, so you just never stop. You just go on and on and on. And your voice has to be very similar two hours later. You have to concentrate a lot.

Q. So in just one day, you got through all of the things you needed to record?
No, it actually took two days [of] eight hours.

Q. So that was for both the metro and Tel-bus. Did you have to research the correct pronunciation of any of the station names?
Yes. I always ask until they really, really are sure. I will never record anything that they are not sure about.

Q. Which ones did you have to clarify?
[Ones] in English. Some times you have to say [some names] with an English accent.

Q. And the messages, they've been in service for eight years, did you say?
I think so. I think it's about that. Now they're changing things.

Q. Yes, that's what I've heard, and we're going to get to that in a little bit. I was going to ask, do you take the metro often yourself?
I live [on the] South Shore, so I don't. I did, of course, sometimes I do.

Q. And is it strange to hear your own voice, or are you used to it from your work?
I was curious what it would sound like. I was always [thinking], 'Maybe I should have said that differently,' but I think that they were happy [with] what I did at that time, and I wonder if it bothers people after a while. What I was upset about was, after a few years I said to them, 'Why don't you change things, because it's [so] repetitive. Maybe we should change things and do something different.' And they said, 'No, it's impossible, it's too expensive' and everything. I asked a few times. Because people were repeating after me in the metro, 'Thank you for...' aagh! (laughter)

Q. Did they know who you are?
One day I was told that they gave my name on the Télécité [display]. So I said, 'Oh my god, my name is there!' But finally everything was OK. And I'm actually very happy that they're changing things. Maybe they'll ask me again to do it, of course, and I hope that they'll make me say something different.

Q. Before they planned to change the voice, had they asked to record the new names, like 'Merci d'avoir voyagé avec la STM' and 'Prochaine station, Jean-Drapeau,' for example, that they changed?
We did Jean-Drapeau, but it never was installed. It is recorded, but I was told [by] the director of Télécité that they were taking a long time in house to make things move and happen. It is going to happen, soon I guess.

Q. You knew about the plan to replace the current system. I called and asked, and apparently they're doing it for technical reasons. They're sort of rewiring everything and they're going to use a different system. What have they told you about that?
Actually I didn't know about that, that they were changing the system. Of course, things do run down, get old, and it's a very delicate system, I understand, and it's a very long process to make it run and happen and everything. So they're going to really try to make me record every name, every possibility, so that they have it in [the] bank. The Laval metro, maybe, we're going to record that even though it's not running [yet]. The rest of it is a really delicate system, that's all I know, and we're going to see this time how it works.

Q. When you were talking before, you used the word 'line' and it sounded exactly like it does on Tel-Bus, before you told me that it was you who had recorded that as well. Do people ever hear your voice and realize that it was you who recorded the announcements in the metro?
I don't think so. Maybe yes, maybe no. The only thing I was told is that when people talk to me, they say 'It's you? I don't recognize you.'

Q. Oh, really?
It's the system that made it sound different. I took a special voice, a special pronunciation, and a special way of talking so that it's very, very clear for people, and not something that bothers you, so [that you think] 'Argh, I wish she would just shut up.' (laughter) It has to be nice enough that you don't mind listening to it, not annoying.

Q. Do many people know that it was you? Many people that you know, are they aware that it was you?
At that time, I was presented to the press as the voice of [the] Montreal metro. That's years ago, and then they changed so much inside the commercial and communication department that they never went on with the idea. [They] were not the same people in charge. At that time they really wanted to put an effort [into] letting people know that it was me, with pictures in the paper and everything, but then it stopped. So what can I say? It depends on people in charge now.

I think that the new president of Alstom-Télécité seems to have put his mind onto that. He wants that to be more advertised, so it will pick up, I guess.

One day, two years ago, a young journalist called me, and he said, I would like to do an article on you and on 'Madame Bell,' the Bell voice. [But] finally she didn't want to do it, so it didn't work. That's the only time I was asked about anything like that since the beginning. People don't seem to really realize or bother. I don't know.

Q. I guess the metro isn't something that a lot of people really think that much about. But then there are some of us like me, there's a number of people who are interested in the metro, who want to know about it, and who are interested in meeting you and finding out what it was like to record that.

Q. People who know you, who knew that it was you who recorded it, do they ever ask you to say your lines for them?
They do, and I hate every moment of it. (laughter) Because I don't remember how I said it. It was, you know, eight hours straight, and I took a special tone, and then that was it. In the end, yes, the welcoming or the good-bye voice I can remember, but that's it.

Q. You really don't like doing it, eh. Well, I was going to ask -

Q. But if you don't like it, that's fine.
I don't even remember what I said exactly.

Q. "Merci d'avoir voyagé avec la STCUM. Bonne journée."
(laughter) Okay, well, I'll do it for you... I'll try to figure it out. Okay... (imitating her own announcement) 'Merci d'avoir voyagé avec la STCUM. Bonne journée.' Something like that.

Q. Well, I didn't want to put you out, but thank you very much for that.

I would like to thank Mme. Judith Ouimet very much for her help and her patience in doing this interview.

Sound file berri-uqam.wav courtesy Iain Hendry.

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