Here's What 'All Things Considered' Sounds Like — In Blackbird Song A Finnish computer scientist had a dream that a blackbird was speaking to her in human language. So she devised a computer program to transform the sounds of the human voice into birdsong.
NPR logo

Here's What 'All Things Considered' Sounds Like — In Blackbird Song

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/988200892/988200893" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Here's What 'All Things Considered' Sounds Like — In Blackbird Song

Here's What 'All Things Considered' Sounds Like — In Blackbird Song

Here's What 'All Things Considered' Sounds Like — In Blackbird Song

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/988200892/988200893" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A Finnish computer scientist had a dream that a blackbird was speaking to her in human language. So she devised a computer program to transform the sounds of the human voice into birdsong.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

While none of us will communicate with birds as well as singer Bobby Day with his "Rockin' Robin," this project just might get you close. Oona Raisanen is a Finnish programmer who built a speech-to-birdsong convertor, and it all started with a dream of a blackbird.

OONA RAISANEN: And he was talking in a human voice. And then I slowly woke up, and it was 5 am in the morning. And there was still a blackbird outside, but now it wasn't talking anymore, it was singing.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And listening to that song, she perceived an inflection somewhat like human speech.

RAISANEN: I think it kind of had a sort of sentence structure in its song.

KELLY: As a signal-processing geek, she thought, why not write some computer code to transform speech into birdsong?

RAISANEN: Human voice is built up of these simpler tones that are put on top of each other to make vowels and consonants.

CHANG: But the tune of many songbirds, while still complicated to produce, often consists of a single harmonic tone rather than layers of harmonics like the human voice.

RAISANEN: So if I remove all of those tones from the human voice except for the one, it should become blackbird song. And it did.

CHANG: Here's how that sounded with Oona voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAISANEN: At the tone, 16 hours, zero minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

RAISANEN: I don't think there's any use for it, per se - some silly ideas that I had. Maybe it could be used as a children's toy or - oh, yeah - you could entertain your cats.

KELLY: Well, in case you're wondering, no, it does not work the other way around. The tool cannot convert birdsong into human speech, so apologies to all you bird scientists out there.

CHANG: Darn. But there is one more application for this technology. We could convert the daily ALL THINGS CONSIDERED broadcast into birdsong. So if I say, hi, I'm Ailsa Chang, and I host ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, this is what that would sound like in birdsong.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

CHANG: (Laughter).

KELLY: (Laughter) I like it. OK, I'll try. If I say, I'm Mary Louise Kelly, and I also host ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, it would sound like...

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDSONG)

KELLY: Charming, but it might make it maybe a little too hard to parse the daily news.

CHANG: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' ROBIN")

BOBBY DAY: (Singing) Tweedle-lee-dee-dee. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. He rocks in the tree tops all day long, boppin' and a-boppin' and a-singing his song. All the little birds on Jaybird Street love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.