Yanni or Laurel?
The acoustic analysis of a meme.
Yanni or Laurel? If you have no idea what I am on about, you’re one of the lucky ones!
For those who haven’t heard, a meme is going around where an audio file is played. The listeners can hear either ‘Yanni’ or ‘Laurel’. Obviously arguing then ensues after people realise that they cannot hear the same thing. I’m not usually keen on talking about this sort of thing, but I’ll try and give some acoustic insight into what’s going on.
If you want to get involved, have a listen to the video to the right –>
The first thing to mention is that although most of us can hear similar sounds, we cannot hear the exact same frequencies. The Organ of Corti in the inner ear converts acoustic pressure into electrical signals, based on the number of (and closeness of) hair cells.
If we hear sound that is too loud at certain frequencies (pitch), these hair cells can die, which leaves us less sensitive to those sounds.
This could be one of the reasons for us hearing ‘Yanni’ or ‘Laurel’ differently.
Analysis using Free Sound Editing Software
To better understand what is going on in terms of acoustics, I have had a detailed look using the free sound editing software Audacity. I would usually create my own acoustic software for such analysis, but as it is something that you might want to do at home, I thought this way would be more fitting.
I can only hear ‘Yanni’ by the way…
Essentially, I have used Fast Fourier Analysis (FFT) to split the sound into its constituent parts, like an acoustic prism (see what I did there). I then gradually filtered out frequencies across the parts of the sound that are most audible. Eventually I found a way to hear ‘Laurel’ using the filters.
Take a listen or watch how I did this in the files and video below:
What have I learned?
A lot of other videos on Youtube have tried to say that the whole thing is because the words sound similar. I would argue that in this case, they sound too similar…
The filters applied to each name are effectively on/off/on/off for Yanni, with the exact opposite being true for Laurel. This almost resembles a cosine wave and inverse cosine wave respectively. The filters I used to isolate each word are the EXACT opposite of each other.
This is not a naturally occurring phenomena and it looks as if the original creator of the meme has pulled a number on us, by hiding both Laurel and Yanni inside the same file!
So I believe that I have found out the truth behind the meme, and probably spoiled the fun of it all in the process. It looks like my work here is done.
The one thing I have really learned is to not watch anymore videos comparing a dress, shoes, daft names, or anything else!