February 8, 2013

The bird that sounds like R2-D2

The wackiest sounds can be found in nature - including those noises that audio wizards spend hours or days manufacturing in a studio. Greg Budney has listened to countless bird songs, walrus calls, and more - for science! He is the audio curator for The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and they've recently finished converting their massive archive of wildlife sounds to digital files and putting them online for everyone to enjoy.

It's an aural treasure trove.

And you never know what you'll find going through the files. One species of bird they recorded sounds an awful lot like a beloved astromech. Meet the Tui bird, native to New Zealand (it's the one on the right): 

Budney recently spoke with Scott Simon on NPR's Weekend Edition about the archive and specifically called out the Tui's fascinating chirps and whistles. You may as well call it the R2-D2 bird. Check out these quick clips to hear the similarities:

It's fun to think that people are probably strolling about in a conservatory and suddently, they hear a familiar sound. They look around for a droid (or someone answering a cell phone) but only see birds.

Even Ben Burtt was impressed with the likeness. Budney told NPR:
In fact, Ben Burtt , the sound designer who created the voice or R2-D2, feels the same. I played it for him out at Skywalker a number of years ago and one of the other staff members walking by heard it and assumed that Ben was playing the sound for me. Ben told me it took him three months to develop R2-D2's voice, and here it is in nature.

You can check out 46 different recordings of the Tui bird in the Macaulay Library archive.

Source:  Weekend Edition

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