General Question

jcs007's avatar

Why can't we imitate everyday sounds (like a blender, car horn, or a door bell) using our own voice?

Asked by jcs007 (1776points) June 20th, 2008 from iPhone
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

20 Answers

Melonking's avatar

Oh god its another link answer, we can’t do such a thing because our voice boxes are not made to sound like a blender.

waterskier2007's avatar

i dont really understand why this is a question, but basically its cus our vocal cords cant vibrate at the same frequency or wavelength as the things you are trying to imitate

ccatron's avatar

@waterskier2007 – geez, man, you know how to make a person feel stupid. that’s about like me saying that your question about CC and BCC was unnecessary. your question could have easily been googled.

this question is decent and would have been difficult to google. that’s what fluther is for!

rockstar's avatar

@playthebanjo- I agree, Michael Winslow can make any sound. I went to his stand up a couple months ago and he was amazing. I have no clue how he can do that stuff

Harp's avatar

There are many complex variables that interact to define the quality of any sound. The following is a ridiculously simplified answer to your question:

All of the sound sources you mention have some element that creates a vibration. That vibration will sound like it’s vibrating at a certain note, or frequency. This primary frequency is called the “fundamental”. But in almost all cases, there will be many, many additional higher frequencies called “harmonics” mixed in with that fundamental. So that vibrating element is cranking out a whole bunch of frequencies all at once.

But there’s more to these sound makers than just the vibrating element. Before going out to your ear, those vibrations will be further shaped by other parts of the sound source. There will be air spaces of various sizes and shapes, and surfaces made of various materials within the sound source, all of which will respond to the vibrations in specific ways, deadening some of the harmonics and boosting others. So by the time the vibrations leave the sound source, they will bear an acoustic “fingerprint” unique to that source; certain harmonics will be far more pronounced than others. This acoustic fingerprint is called “timbre”; it’s what makes middle C played on a piano distinguishable from the same note played on a guitar.

A few sound makers have ways of varying timbre. When a trumpet player puts a mute in his horn, that’s what he’s doing. When you hold your nose as you sing, you’re doing that too. In fact, the human voice is one of the most timbre-variable instruments out there. Our speech consists mostly of intricate timbre variations. But even so, there are only so many modifications we can make to the sizes of our air cavities and the shape of our lips. And we can do nothing about the materials our sound making apparatus is made of. So we may be able to get close to reproducing the harmonic signatures of some sound-makers, but others will be forever out of reach.

waterskier2007's avatar

i didnt mean to insult, but its just that i dont get what kind of answer was required. its just like how we make different noises than dogs, who make different noises than ducks… etc. because our vocal cords and voice boxes are different. only with blenders and the other stuff its parts touching, causing friction which causes sound and heat to produce the noise

chutterhanban's avatar

correct me if i’m wrong (because i may very well be), but can’t our mouths only perfectly recreate sounds that come from other places on our own bodies (a.k.a. flatulence). it seems like in order to perfectly recreate a sound that it must be apart of the same physical make-up. comments?

marinelife's avatar

@chutterhanban Sorry, you are wrong. Otherwise, people would not be able to make sounds like bird calls, which we can very well.

Harp’s very erudite explanation calls for me to trot out one of my favorite user groups of the human vocal cords, Tuvan throat singers. They are amazing.

Birds can imitate electronic sounds so well as to be vitually indistinguishable from the real thing. My friend’s bird did her cell phone ring, the doorbell and various appliances..

Harp's avatar

My daughter just heard them perform at her college and brought me back a recording. At first you’re wondering “so what’s with the drone?”, but then you realize “OMG, there’s a freaking melody in there!”. Very cool.

robmandu's avatar

I’m confused… @banjo already cited Michael Winslow (from the Police Academy movies) as a famous example of a human being who can indeed make those sounds.

So why all the explanation and debate about why it can’t be done?

No one here got a web browser that can actually follow a link?!?

playthebanjo's avatar

Melonking has turned everyone off to links for some crazy reason.

Harp's avatar

I don’t think anyone (except for chutterhanban maybe) is saying that humans can’t make “non-human” sounds, and yes, Winslow can do lots of them amazingly well. But we’ll never hear him do the ones he can’t do well. There will certainly be some of those, despite what his publicists say.

marinelife's avatar

@Harp Between two and four notes simultaneously. I am in awe. I suspect one wold have to learn as a child.

Trance24's avatar

There are people known too. You have to learn how to use your vocal cords, and execute the sounds. Not everyone can do it.

breedmitch's avatar

@Marina: Yeah, Tuvan is cool, but what he’s doing is called overtone singing. His actual vocal chords are actually only prodicing one note, The other notes are overtones and are produced in another part of his skull.

marinelife's avatar

@breedmitch Tuvan is not a person. Tuva is a place and Tuvan throat singing is an ancient tradition.

As to how it is done, you are incorrect. Here is a technical explanation:

“The simplest way of explaining what throat singers do is that they can sing two notes at the same time. In fact, not just two notes—some throat singers can produce as many as four distinct tones simultaneously. The effect is truly weird and chilling.

What throat singers do is to select a fundamental pitch at which certain formants will naturally be strongest, and then manipulate their vocal tracts in such a way as to reinforce individual harmonics even further. By careful movements of the jaw, lips, tongue, and throat, they can vary the frequency of the formants, thus affecting which harmonics receive the greatest “kick.” The net result is that you get a steady low-pitched fundamental, but a shifting series of emphasized harmonics forming a melody.

Your vocal cords (known to linguists as “vocal folds”) are not the only structures in your throat that can vibrate enough to be heard. There’s another pair of tissues slightly higher up in the throat known as the false folds; these, along with various other protrusions of cartilage and tissue, can be manipulated, with practice, to make other pitches in addition to the one produced by the vocal folds. So not only can accomplished throat singers combine a single fundamental with an overtone melody, he can actually create two or three simultaneous fundamentals. I get a sore throat just thinking about it.”

There is also an article in the September 20, 1999 issue of Scientific American.

breedmitch's avatar

My mistake about Tuvan. But like I said (and you did too) his vocal chords are only producing one note. Also in the David Letterman link you provided he never creates more than two simultaneous notes.

Harp's avatar

Technically, breedmitch, every one of those notes is present in the original vibration from the vocal chords. Even if I, with my crappy voice, croak out an “A”, there will be many other notes (frequencies) created alongside that 440Hz vibration, all of them coming from my vocal chords. But what these guys know how to do (and I don’t), is to use the rest of their heads and throats to selectively reinforce some of those frequencies so that they can be more clearly heard alongside the fundamental.

Here is another good explanation.

breedmitch's avatar

Thanks Harp. Now I get it!

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