Neat audio illusion explained using that annoying Smashmouth song




I guess I’ll earn my pendant badge here. But, Jean-Claude Risset is french and they’re saying his name wrong. It’s not ree-set, like reset or riˈsɛt (in IPA). It’s ree-say, or ri-seɪ. Cool video, though.


Tangential this radio lab episode is very good.


But… it always sounds like nonsense, right?


I heard everything except the thud from the tower skipping wire. I too like Smashmouth, especially that song.


When you look at maps of nerves and what type they are, it gets really weird. The eyes end up looking like chunks of brain extending out on sticks.

Same sort of thing with a dog’s nose, they just have a long and skinny chunk of brain that sticks out of their head into their snout.


Its is worse than that; my brain is constructing reality for you! Unfortunately I had a slice of strong cheese before going to bed one night, and woke up to find I’d created Donald Trump. Sorry about that.


Yep. Plus…

And what if you don’t? (What/who is/are Smashmouth?)

Some people, if they had any interest in attracting and retaining a wide audience for their media meanderings might have chosen a song with a little more likelihood of having been heard by a wider audience. I guess this guy thinks he knows hs audience and is content with self-limiting his reach.


  • no, no idea ref the song
  • never heard the pylon thud, here or before when seen previously
  • did hear the piano stuff
  • definitely did hear the ‘is’ with the cough (would love someone to analyse the wave form of that segment and say it really is not there)


Ok, here is your pedant. (:


It took me a few seconds 'til I saw what you wrote there :laughing: LOL

And how appropriate for the thread, i.e. that my brain supplied what I expected to see :laughing:

(Also, just in case anyone wants to check, there really is a badge called the Pedant Pendant here. And it has been earned by a very select few!)


This is not a neat audio illusion (or one weird trick to hear lyrics). A couple things are going on here.

The first thing is this: the piano is playing extra notes along with the notes from the Smash Mouth song (see the full video here: These extra notes simulate the sounds of spoken words. In the beginning of the song it sounds more like the song, and the extra notes are not as present. This makes it easier to hear the song, but harder to hear the lyrics (it took me a few seconds to start to hear them on this first part). Then when the chorus starts, many more extra notes are played making the song sound like someone just banging on every key of the piano, but the lyrics are much easier to hear. On the posted video where they show the player piano, a computer is controlling the piano to play notes very quickly to emulate speaking sounds. This piano is playing only the “extra” notes and no added melody.

The second thing that’s happening is, since these quickly played piano notes are not fully formed speech (they are, after all, just a bunch of piano sounds), they are easier to “hear” when you know what they are saying. So with the song, since you (unfortunately) know the words, these sounds are easily heard as words. With the player piano, it does its job so well that many of the words are understandable without the subtitles, and with the subtitles they are unmissable. But this is not some weird illusion. This is the same as if you were watching a movie and couldn’t understand what someone said and you went back and put on the closed captioning, then after reading what was said you totally can understand what the person is saying.

So this posting would be more accurately titled: Isn’t it cool that someone figured out how to make a piano play notes so fast it can actually talk to you? And isn’t it horrible they also had the piano play notes from a Smash Mouth song at the same time?


It turns out the Smash Mouth song was made by creating a MIDI version of a song, lyrics and all, and having a piano play that. What I said above is still basically true. The first part of the song is not as heavy with lyrics, so the melody stands out more than the chorus. The posted video’s was a bit disingenuous about this, saying it is just Smash Mouth played on the piano. Basically click-bait science.


Look into the comments to see some guys swearing they could hear Flea’s bass:

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