God’s Cricket Chorus: Real or Hoax?

A recording of crickets chirping is said to sound like a human chorus singing in harmony when the sounds are slowed down. Is this true or false?

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The sounds of crickets appear genuine, but the melody was likely added later.

About
Although it has been circulating in late 2013, the piece in question by Jim Wilson dates to the early 1990′s. The liner notes of one version of the work explains the sounds:

Though it may sound like a synthesizer or a chorus singing; it’s the crickets themselves slowed way down, creating the effect of a choir of human voices. The sound created is a simple diatonic 7-note scale chord progression and melody with a multi-layered structure.

cricket

The song features two tracks: crickets chirping at normal speed, and the sound of crickets chirping “several octaves lower.” The slowed-down crickets sound amazingly like a harmonizing choir, singing in a major key.

History
The original cricket recording was captured by Jim Wilson and included on the album Medicine Songs as the track “Ballad of the Twister Hair.”

In 1994, the cricket track was featured on the soundtrack to the TBS documentary miniseries The Native Americans as the track “Twisted Hair.” That track also featured Native American opera singer Bonnie Jo Hunt, who sang an additional melody over the track. (Listen)

An extended version also exists, entitled “God’s Cricket Chorus” which does not have the narrative or Ms. Hunt’s vocals. (Listen below)


Bonnie Jo Hunt described the recording in a 2004 interview:

Jim Wilson recorded crickets in his back yard, and he brought it into the studio and went ahead and lowered the pitch and lowered the pitch and lowered the pitch. And they sound exactly like a well-trained church choir to me. And not only that, but it sounded to me like they were singing in the eight-tone scale. And so what–they started low, and then there was something like I would call, in musical terms, an interlude; and then another chorus part; and then an interval and another chorus. They kept going higher and higher.

Skeptics Respond
Several musicians attempted to recreate the effect heard in the works above, and were unable to match the sounds in the Wilson recording.

Soundcloud user Dave D’aranjo attempted to recreate the cricket choir effect, slowing cricket chirping to various levels. His results (below) are are much more repetitive and the tones do not appear to be in a major key.

Another Soundcloud user, VCFX Recordings, also posted an experiment of crickets chirping which has been slowed down. The result is a pleasant, human-like tone, but it does not create a melody as found in the Wilson track. VCFX postulates that the “Cricket Choir” could have been created with similar cricket samples, but a melody added later by the composer:

“It is my belief that Jim Wilson did in fact record crickets and pitch them down, but recorded his own melody using MIDI with the sample.”

Bottom Line
The harmonies and melody of the “cricket choir” seem too conveniently close to what is found in a man-made diatonic major scale. At normal speed, crickets chirp in repetitive patter, which the Soundcloud skeptics showed above. Several musicians have tried to duplicate the harmonizing, melodic choir sounds found in the “cricket choir” and have been unable to do so. A more likely explanation is that a sound sample was created from the slowed sound of crickets chirping, and a melody was played using this sample. It is also possible that Mr. Wilson created several different samples matching notes in the major scale, and generated a melody based on those. Either way, it appears that some sort of melody was later added to the sound of crickets chirping. Wilson himself hinted that he may have in fact altered the pitch of the crickets in some way:

“I discovered that when I slowed down this recording to various levels, this simple familiar sound began to morph into something very mystic and complex……..almost human.”

The use of the term “various levels” may be an implication that this is not a raw, unaltered recording of crickets chirping several octaves lower, but a manipulation of these sounds. Whether these “various levels” were achieved via MIDI samples or another method is uncertain. It does seem clear that the cricket chorus is not simply the sound of crickets slowed down, but a manipulation in some way to achieve the familiar sounds of Western tonality.

Additional Sources

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11 Comments on God’s Cricket Chorus: Real or Hoax?

  1. Johnnyabnormal // November 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm // Reply

    There’s a huge buzz (no pun intended) regarding this recording:
    https://soundcloud.com/acornavi/robert-wilson-crickets-audio

    The beautiful harmonies are said to be made from 100% cricket sounds that were slowed down on tape. Slowing down tape effects both pitch and speed together. So, let’s listen to these field recordings of crickets:

    http://www.johnnyrandom.com/crickets/crickets-original-vs-slowed-tape.zip

    Cricket solo original recording.mp3
    Crickets multiple A original recording.mp3
    Crickets multiple B original recording.mp3
    Crickets multiple C original recording.mp3

    I then took these and slowed them down tape-style in octaves:

    Crickets multiple A minus 1 octave.mp3
    Crickets multiple A minus 2 octaves.mp3
    Crickets multiple A minus 3 octaves.mp3
    Crickets multiple A minus 4 octaves.mp3

    The minus 4 octaves examples sound less like “God’s Chorus” and more like “Hell’s Demons”! As shown through evidence (mp3 examples) crickets do not create complex choral harmonies. As a professional composer and sound designer, this is what I hear on “God’s Chorus of Crickets”:

    There is a (real speed) field recording of crickets. Under that field recording is a recording of a (human) choir that has been slowed down, reversed and run through some reverb. It’s a beautiful technique to get harmonic texture, but most definitely human in harmonic structure and cadence.

  2. Totally hoax. I downloaded the song, and put it on Audacity and slowed it down. As the sound the of the crickets are in the same track if you slow it down you’ll hear only the original crickets slowed, and the “slowed down” part is automatically faded away because of its low pitch. Doing that, you won’t hear no melody but a repetitive pattern of cricket’s sound slowed down.

    Also, if you increase the speed you should hear again the sound of the crickets as the “melody” originally was slowed down, but you can speeding it at different values and you hear nothing as the natural sound of crickets. Rather you hear a song that was speeded up.

    Try it.

    • I cannot repeat it, because I don’t have the tools for it. However I can see your point and the proving power of the experiment you did. This settles the question in my opinion. (Good job :)

  3. Being a sceptic myself, I really appreciate this article about the cricket issue. Although I have experienced that my ears/mind tend to filter out kind of “human voices” from “white noise”. That is probably related to the habit of looking for special sound patterns of the human mind. (See this TED video: “Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies” at http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius_of_babies.html ) However those “human voices” never add up to anything making sense. It needs a person who desperately tries to believe in wonders to think that natural sounds would generate any type of sophisticated human music.

  4. The only reason I left a slight chance for hearing out some kind of a music from (more or less repetitive) sounds is auditory illusion ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auditory_illusion ).
    If you have Java on your computer, you may want to try out this piece from my collection of science simulations: http://nagysandor.eu/physlet/applets/illusion.html
    Now, the instructions are in Hungarian, but I tell you what to do here.
    First play the octave by slowly hitting the keys in sequence at fix intervals. You can repeat it up and down a couple of times.
    Then hit C2 and C1 one after the other. Wow! They are actually the same sounds but your mind did a trick to you before and made you belive that they were different (to make the octave more music-like?).
    Play now C1 and then A1. Surprize! A1 sounds lower than C1, although it should be the other way around.
    So this kind of illusion may also help to perceive some of the slowed-down chirping a bit musik-like. I am not sure, but I believe so.

  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61ytg60AwOE&feature=youtu.be

    This is where it is from. Uploaded in 2011. For gods sake. Calm your tits.

  6. Through clever manipulation, humans can make street traffic sound like music.

    http://soundcloud.com/darangatang/dawkins_chorus_of_crickets

  7. Matías Torres // February 23, 2014 at 11:27 am // Reply

    Why isn’t there anybody that takes the slowed down recording, and speed it up to see if in some point sounds like the original recording of crickets?

  8. Ladies and gentlemen, the music of Johann Sebastian Bug. Actually, this is nothing unusual. Surely everyone has heard Jiminy Cricket’s rendition of When You Wish Upon A Star.

  9. Ummmm, if anything this article just proves that it was NOT hoax. The recreated recordings DO create a chorus sounding sound, not quite as melodic, but there could be dozens of conditions that were different between their recordings and the original. We know temperature, humidity and other weather conditions affect the sounds of crickets, so just because it wasn’t 100% identical doesn’t mean anything, they were close enough. I don’t know why right after showing the recreated recordings that succeeded in creating a very similiar effect, that the article said they failed and therefore was hoax….

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