How to make a weird screech into speech – without twiddling a single knob

Have you ever watched one of those crime movies where there’s a blurry audio recording and a geeky forensic guy twiddles some knobs, makes coloured waves dance on the screen – and turns the unintelligible speech into clear utterances?

Have you ever wondered how it works? Well it’s easier than you might have thought – and this page shows you how!

Some movie-makers go to a lot of trouble to process the audio in tricky ways. But they could really save themselves the trouble.

You can make nearly anything into intelligible speech if you know the right methods, even a weird screech than sounds barely human. Want to know how?

Here’s a weird screech

Listen as many times as you wish, then write down what you hear.

If you can’t write it directly, how would you describe it? As with all Rethink Speech demos, it is really worth jotting down your first impressions so you have something concrete to refer to later on.

What do you think you would have to do to make that screech into speech?

To see the answer, follow this youtube link (just don’t forget to come back here again!). If you can’t open the link, use the audio only version here – but the video is better.

If you’ve come here from the JonBenét story, feel free to go back there now.

Once you’ve stopped laughing – here’s some things to think about

You see how it works? You don’t have to touch the audio at all. The power of the mind turns the weird screech into a sequence of words – hopefully giving a chuckle in the process.

What does it all mean?

With no context, the audio sounds like nothing much at all. But when you get a suggestion from the context priming you to hear particular words, you go right ahead and hear those words – albeit emanating from an unusual source. (If you don’t hear the words yourself, please be assured at least 3,841,527 You-Tube viewers do – this clip ranks #6 on America’s Funniest Videos).

The most important thing to notice is there is no difference at all in the audio itself. The only source for the radical difference in how it sounds comes from how listeners think about the sound, which is heavily influenced by each listener’s understanding of the context.

Now: some interesting questions to consider

Once you have heard the screech as speech, how easy is it to go back to hearing it as you did before you were given the context?

Once you’ve ‘heard’ the suggested words, the original audio sounds far more like words than it did at the start. Here it is again for you to check that.

You see how it now seems to contain the words, even if in a blurry, screechy, distorted way?

Your mind changed an uninterpretable screech into a sequence of words – then retreated into the shadows, saying ‘Who me? I never done nothin’! Those words are just there to be heard’.

What if you had never heard the screech on its own?

How do you think the screech would sound to people who did the demo the other way round (first watching the video, then hearing the audio out of context)?

What does all this tell us about speech perception?

Something for you to consider as you complete this module and explore Rethink Speech. At this point, we’ll just give ONE WORD OF CAUTION: Don’t leap to conclusions! The unlearning modules give a lot of other experiences that are worth taking into account before committing to a theory of speech and how it works.