A Musical Sound?

When someone’s voice is on repeat,

You might begin to tap your feet;

As into music, words do change,

Sometimes the sounds we hear are strange.


Illusions that turn speech to song,

A musical phenomenon;

It’s a linguistic interchange,

Sometimes the sounds we hear are strange.


But what about a non-speech sound;

A Buzzing bee, a drooling hound.

Do these create the same exchange?

Sometimes the sounds we hear are strange.


A shovel scraped across a rock

Or ticking of an antique clock

Can cause our senses to derange;

Sometimes the sounds we hear are strange.


For whilst the sounds remain the same

There’s something stirring in your brain,

This causes them to rearrange;

Sometimes the sounds we hear are strange.

Natural music (Photo Credit: Max Pixel).

This is a Kyrielle, inspired by recent research* that shows how listeners perceive repeated environmental sounds as music.

Previous research has shown that repetition can lead to speech being musicalised, i.e. that repetitive speech can be perceived as music. This phenomenon is known as the ‘Speech-to-Song Illusion’, and was originally discovered by Diana Deutsch; who, when editing a spoken commentary noticed that after a number of repetitions, the phrase “sometimes behave so strangely” sounded as though it was being sung rather than spoken.

This new research demonstrates that a similar illusion occurs when listening to repetitions of other kinds of non-speech sounds. By using digital clips of 20 environmental sounds, ranging from buzzing bees to the noise of machines, researchers played these clips to participants, who rated them along a spectrum from “sounded exactly like environmental sound” to “sounded exactly like music.” The more they listened to these clips, the higher the participants rated them as sounding like ‘music’ rather than ‘environmental sound’. The sounds themselves didn’t change, but something inside the minds of the listeners did, thereby enabling them to perceive them as music. This discovery will also help future investigations into the explorations and definitions of what music is.


An audio version of this poem can be heard here.


*Please note that this link provides a preprint version of the manuscript, which is currently in press, and which will shortly be published in the new Music and Science open access journal from SAGE publishing.

3 thoughts on “A Musical Sound?”

  1. Music is organized sound. What “music is to one persons ears” is of course opinion. Concepts like “the music of the spheres” are metaphysical.


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