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Beatbox Sounds

February 25, 2013

MRI scans of beatboxers show that they’ve unwittingly borrowed sounds from exotic languages.



Visualizing beatboxing.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[SFX: beatbox]

You’re listening to a beatboxer, or vocal percussionist, making drum sounds with his mouth.   He’s also inside an MRI scanner.  Why?  So that researchers at the University of Southern California could visualize exactly how he produces these sounds. Speech scientist Michael Proctor, now at the University of Western Sydney in Australia, worked with engineer Shri Narayanan and his colleagues.  They found that even though beatboxers imitate instruments, not speech, they inevitably duplicate sounds from human languages – even obscure ones they’ve never heard before.

MICHAEL PROCTOR (University of Western Sydney, Australia):

In some ways they have no choice but to converge upon the same mechanisms of sound production that people use, when they’re producing different kinds of consonants and vowels in different languages.

The insights could help improve musical training and speech therapy.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

MRI scan of a beatboxer making sounds with his mouth. (University of Southern California)