How to make music using the voices on your Mac

Fun with OS X

We hi-jacked our laptop’s voice library to make some pretty respectable Gregorian chant – here’s how

Don’t ask how, but we recently discovered that you can use the ‘say’ command on Terminal, Apple’s built-in command-line application, to have some musical fun. All you need is a Mac running OS X, your speakers and some keen listening ears.

2016-04-22 Terminal logoFirst of all, access Terminal by pressing Cmd-space, typing ‘Terminal’, then opening Terminal from the resulting drop-down menu.

Then, in Terminal, type:

say hello

– then press enter. Hear that? It gets better. Macs come with a range of over 60 different voice options, all accessible via Terminal. To get the full set, open up System Preferences > Dictation & Speech > System Voice > Customize, then select as many as you like to download.

Time to get your Mac to sing. Try copying and pasting this into Terminal:

say -v Bad “la la la la la la la la la la la”

It seems that some of the ‘novelty’ voices have been programmed to sing recognisable tunes. This one, ‘Bad News’, sounds like The Funeral March (movement three of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 ).

Now try copying and pasting THIS into Terminal:

say -v Cellos “Grieg’s my fave rit, yes he is, yes he is, yes he is. La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la.”

Yep, it’s Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Peer Gynt – but not like you’ve heard it before. We get the feeling that OS X’s ‘tuned’ voices were programmed from memory – by someone who doesn’t have a great memory.

The ‘Good News’ voice has a familiar tune, too – but something about the quality of its tone made our staffers Greg and Christina want to try something a little bit different.

We ended up using specialist software to convert Terminal’s proto-Gregorian chant into something a bit more complex. But we’ve definitely shown that anyone with a Mac can have some musical fun just by tapping a few keys.

Have fun exploring the different voices – and in the meantime, if anyone is able to tell us the name of this tune, we’d really appreciate it.

In Terminal, type:

say -v Pipe “La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la.”

Classical Music Reimagined is a blog about music and technology from the team at Amphio. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get our updates direct to your feed.
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0 0 0 5 comments
  1. Reply

    The last one is a TV show theme. Some kind of mystery TV show?

  2. Reply

    Got it! It’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_AmqBGDJDs

    • Christina
    • 22 April, 2016
    Reply

    Sterling work! This is what the Internet is FOR

    • Rob
    • 23 April, 2016
    Reply

    The theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents was itself an existing piece by Charles Gounod titled “Funeral March of a Marionette”.

    • Christina
    • 26 April, 2016
    Reply

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