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

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.