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


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.


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.


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


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.


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...


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

CHANG: (Laughter).


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Angela Vang
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.

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