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Dictionaraoke - Fair-Use meets Karaoke 104

stu42j writes "NPR's On the Media today interview's David Dixon from where 'A group of fair-use artists have created songs using the spoken pronunciation guides of words in online dictionaries. The result is an entertaining blend of computerized music and monotone singing.'"
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Dictionaraoke - Fair-Use meets Karaoke

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  • My opinion is this wouldn't sound very good. Computerized music doesn't sound good unless it's done well, and monotone singing can get quite boring. But don't send any money to the RIAA! :-)
    • monotone singing can get quite boring

      I dunno, I rather like They Might Be Giants and their's is certainly a monotone-nasal sound.

      • Speaking of TMBG I love bangs... anyway some of the gretest songs ever made are MIDI. Haven't you ever heard the soundtracks to old snes games. They are all computermade songs and they sound great.
  • Considering most pop-music is fairly generic now anyways, I guess this'll do what mp3's didn't to the music industry:)
  • by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Monday May 13, 2002 @09:45AM (#3509671) Homepage Journal
    "Entertaining blend"? This must be some new, magical definition of the word "entertaining" with which I am not familiar.

    A much better project would be a neural network system that takes the entire works of Led Zeppelin and J.R.R. Tolkien as input, and provides us with some amazing new fantasy rock as output.

    I have determined that every Led Zeppelin tune can be interpretted in terms of Tolkien's Middle Earth with little difficulty. Please post challenges here.

    • Going to California. Is there a California in Middle Earth?
      • And Kashmir
        • And Kashmir

          Haha. To those not familiar with Zeppelin: Kashmir is one of the "dead giveaways" that all but mentions Elrond.

          Just answering this so no one thinks I let a challenge go unanswered.

      • All too easy. :) "Going West" is a metaphor for death, closure, and transcendence in LotR.

        In more detail (my comments in italics):

        Spent my days with a woman unkind,
        Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine. smoking weed and drinking elfwine in Lothlorien
        Made up my mind to make a new start, forging ahead in the War of the Ring
        Going To California with an aching in my heart. knowing that in the end the singer will have to "go West" as the Third Age comes to a close

        Someone told me there's a girl out there
        With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair. Galadriel
        Took my chances on a big jet plane,
        Never let them tell you that they're all the same. "jet plane" refers to the ships that take the Eldar back over the ocean

        The sea was red and the sky was grey,
        Wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today. sea imagery with commentary about transition from Third to Fourth Age
        The mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake
        As the children of the sun began to awake. Sauron's rise to power and the War of the Ring

        Seems that the wrath of the Gods
        Got a punch on the nose and it started to flow; the Istari were sent by the Valari to stem the flow of evil
        I think I might be sinking. doubt
        Throw me a line if I reach it in time
        I'll meet you up there where the path
        Runs straight and high. if good triumphs, then the elvenkind and wizards will meet again in the West

        To find a queen without a king;
        They say she plays guitar and cries and sings.
        La la la la Elven imagery, Galadriel again
        Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn
        Tryin' to find a woman who's never, never, never been born. realization that it's time to move on after the Third Age
        Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
        Telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems. Gandalf's vision as he tries to convince himself that good is destined to prevail

    • Just go and find some of the songs by Blind Guardian... and there you go, some kick ass inspired by Tolkien rock. (and some bad covers of other things)
    • The Lemon Song? I don't recall anyone "Squeezing a lemon" in LOTR

      "Achilles Last Stand" is more of a Greek slant to it.

      There are a few more examples but you're right it wouldn't be hard to argue.
      • "The Lemon Song" is a toughie. Briefly, the main characters in the song are analogous to Gandalf and Saruman, and the "other man" is Sauron.

        As for "Achilles," it is a pretty straightforward mosaic Tolkienesque imagery and themes. A few select lines, my comments in italics:

        Whoa, the songs to sing When we at last return again
        Oh, to sail away To sandy lands and other days
        singing about the end of the Third Age

        To seek the man whose pointing hand
        Saruman, obviously, whose emblem was a pointing hand

        Wandering upon the rings What place to rest the search

        • Uh, "The Lemon Song" is one of those songs that Jimmy Page ripped off from other artists. The majority of the song is snagged from Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor", with bits taken from Robert Johnson as well (the "take a Rider by my side" part is from "Cross Road Blues", also covered by Cream).

          Tons of artists, including Bob Dylan, have covered Killing Floor (but only Zeppelin had the audacity not to credit him).

          So there's absolutely NO possibility of a Tolkien connection with this particular tune. Sorry.
    • "South Bound Saurez", off of In Through The Out Door.
      • Hm, I'd say that could apply to any number of characters who like being among their own kind and their "feet on the ground", e.g., hobbits, orcs, ents (my personal vote), dwarves. Note that love songs were as common in Middle Earth as they are in the modern world. I personally find the entish love songs to be incredibly moving.
      OHHHHHHHH ...."
      Or "Squeeze my lemon, till the juice runs down my leg
      The way you squeeze my lemon, I'm going to fall right out of bed"
      I would love to hear how these lyrics can be related to Tolkien.
    • How about "Royal Orleans" [], which is about John Paul Jones accidentally picking up a transvestite hooker in New Orleans.

      I must've missed that part of the Simarillion.
    • Good Times Bad Times
      Babe I'm Gonna Leave You
      You Shook Me
      Dazed And Confused
      Your Time Is Gonna Come
      Black Mountain Side
      Communication Breakdown
      I Can't Quit You Baby
      How Many More Times
      Whole Lotta Love
      What Is And What Should Never Be
      The Lemon Song
      Thank You
      Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)
      Moby Dick
      Bring It On Home
      Celebration Day
      Since I've Been Loving You
      Out On The Tiles
      Gallows Pole
      That's The Way
      Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
      Hats Off To (Roy) Harper
      Black Dog
      Rock and Roll
      Four Sticks
      When The Levee Breaks
      The Crunge
      Dancing Days
      D'yer Mak'er
      The Ocean

      That's just the first 5 albums. Left on anything that could even REMOTELY be interpreted as Tolkien-inspired (such as Going to California).

  • by spudwiser ( 124577 ) <spudwiser&hotmail,com> on Monday May 13, 2002 @09:47AM (#3509682) Journal
    here's the official list of mirrors []
  • by Man of E ( 531031 ) <> on Monday May 13, 2002 @09:50AM (#3509704)
    So how would they do words that aren't in dictionaries? Piece them together from existing ones? What a herculean task...

    Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious = Super+california+fragmentation+holistic+expiration +alien+doctor+ferocious?

  • The result is an entertaining blend of computerized music and monotone singing.

    Can you spot the word that doesn't belong?
  • if they grunt the words and play some heavy bass rifs and 7 string guitars, I bet this stuff would make it onto the top 40.

    but I love Metal :-)
  • by travdaddy ( 527149 ) <> on Monday May 13, 2002 @09:59AM (#3509752)
    Oh yeah, I remember hearing one of their computerized, monotone songs a few years ago. They did get all the pronunciation right but they messed up on the grammar a bit. I think they called it "All Your Base."
  • Since you won't break any copyright laws, or you can find it as mp3s. I will tell you who will, anyone you can't sing, is drunk, and is forced by so called friends to perform an act of karaoke!

  • Why not use freely available voice synthesis software (just search and there's a couple different packages).

    I've downloaded lyrics before and fed it into these things. Brittany Spears sung by a computer with an English accent is very funny after a couple beers...
  • Next Step...DDR!!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cybrpnk2 ( 579066 )
    The next logical step is to incorporate this into the hot new video game DDR [] (Dance Dance Revolution)...
  • I guess those who complain about all new music sounding the same will have a field day with this...
  • by carlos_benj ( 140796 ) on Monday May 13, 2002 @10:11AM (#3509812) Journal
    The thought of monotone lyrics made me think of redoing the complete catalog of music from a particular subset of musicians and call the results "Boy Blands" but I can't find MMMM-BOP in the dictionary.
    • Any one of a number of fine Apple text-to-speech voices should have been just fine to "sing" these songs. "Good News" etc. Although I would have preferred Zarvox.
  • My Own Song (Score:2, Funny)

    by broller ( 74249 )
    Oh no, I'm suddenly inspired to make my own song since the site is:

    Slash [] Dot [] Ted []
  • NPR interested in monotone music? Somehow i'm not suprised.
  • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Monday May 13, 2002 @10:17AM (#3509836) Homepage
    Or does this sound like William Shatner "singing"?
    • No, it's much better than Shatner. Anything's better than Shatner.
      • No, it's much better than Shatner. Anything's better than Shatner.

        You've obviously never heard Leonard Nimoy singing "If I Had a Hammer".


        The picture on the album should've warned me: Nimoy dressed up as a flower child -- something so surreal Roddenbury had him dress like that again in an ST episode.

    • I went to the site, and listened to ACDC's "Highway to Hell" and, funny thing - the first thing that came to mind was:

      "Hey! This sounds like William Shatner singing 'Highway to Hell'!" {shudder}
  • And how is that different from regular Karaoke?
  • MC Hawking rules! (Score:3, Informative)

    by kievit ( 303920 ) on Monday May 13, 2002 @10:29AM (#3509902) Journal
    Sorry, I tried a song (at the mirror []!) but the result comes nowhere near The Mighty Stephen Hawking [].
  • You ever wondered what the words were to that song? Listen to these: they sound like crap but at least you'll understand the words.
  • by kc8apf ( 89233 )
    This reminds me of 386DX []. It's just about as bad, but he pulls it off on a 386 with 4MB of RAM.
  • It's a "group" with only one performer: a 386 40Mhz PC with some MIDI and sound synth software.
    After years of begging and pushing by his fans Shulgin decided to approach Staalplaat music publishers when he was in Berlin to give a concert early this year. Recorded in London like every resectable music CD, this CD is not just another collection of music on another silver disc though: you can boot your computer from it and have your own 386 DX. Ready for performance, ready to create both sound and vision in early computer aesthetics. The CD contains an illegal copy of an early version of Windows (3.1)and you can run your computer with it. But most importantly the CD contains cyberpunkband 386 DX's most popular tunes: pop songs from the last thirty years played and sung by a computer.

    Official URL is


  • by 2Flower ( 216318 ) on Monday May 13, 2002 @10:45AM (#3510008) Homepage

    I'm surprised nobody's really picked up on this -- the radio interviewer even disregarded it ("Putting aside the politics, insert smarky comment here").

    It does call into question the nature of copyright, once you break something down to its core elements. The reason why MIDI was used? Because it's a mathematical representation of a string of notes, rather than a copy of an actual copyrighted performance of those notes. The reason why dictionary samples were used instead of a better synthesizer? Well, think about this: are the sampled words copyrighted? The dictionary sites they were lifted from could claim copyright, but do they really own the rights to a sound bite of a proununciation of an english word? What if I recorded myself saying it? What if you take their recordings and make sentences, who owns the rights then, the composer/assembler or the dictionary or what?

    I LOVE how jumbled the legal issues get surrounding this. Of course, I'm sure the RIAA will get them shut down ASAP to prove they own the right to every aspect of our culture, including our own commentary upon that culture.

    • Of course, I'm sure the RIAA will get them shut down ASAP to prove they own the right to every aspect of our culture, including our own commentary upon that culture.

      Only if those online dictionaries happen to be member organizations under the RIAA umbrella. As far as I know, they are not. The RIAA doesn't sue when someone steals a car, the RIAA doesn't sue when someone steals a loaf of bread, the RIAA doesn't sue when someone steals a copy of Microsoft Excel.

      Will the dictionary companies sue? Only if they think this causes them damage. That could be a matter of corporate image [claiming the voice is a recognizable de facto trademark of a specific dictionary property], a matter of competitive advantage [claiming the compilation of words constitutes an alternative product employing their own patent-protected methods], or a matter of creative control [claiming the specific aggregation of pronunciations or the specific voice actor's performance is an artistic expression that others have no inherent right to copy]. I think each of these claims are weak in this case.

    • Actually, there are two copyrighted elements which need to be considered. The original sheet music which lists the notes that make up the song will have a copyright and separate performance right, which is probably violated by making a MIDI file and distributing it without consent ("reverse engineering" them from another performance won't exempt you). The original lyrics are also copyrighted and can't be reproduced for wide distribution (even as a vocal transformation) without consent. [] ran into this problem a few years back. They were shut down for a year or more as they sought permission from the various copyright holders and repackaged the lyrics in a "secure" format.

      I don't think the legal issues are really all that jumbled. It's just a question of whether a parody of this form qualifies as a "fair use".
      • > I don't think the legal issues are really all
        > that jumbled. It's just a question of whether
        > a parody of this form qualifies as a "fair use".

        There's a built-in way of protecting this form of ... well, it's not music; let's call it "expression".

        If the recording artist sues, Dictionaraoke can threaten to submit each song as evidence during the trial, forcing the court to listen to each one. After about five or six of them, the prosecution will definitely move to dismiss the case!

        The moral of the story is, if you insist on breaking the law, try to do it in a fashion as annoying as possible.
      • The original lyrics are also copyrighted and can't be reproduced for wide distribution (even as a vocal transformation) without consent.

        Not exactly. A cover song can be publically performed with a simple ASCAP [] (or BMI [] or whatever) compulsary license. To be on the safe side, they should definately have an ASCAP license, that's not all that expensive. They still could run into problems because of the fact that they are allowing the songs to be downloaded. Technically, they should probably be paying Harry Fox [] (or someone similar) "7.1 cents per CD sold [] if the song is 5 minutes or under. Songs over 5 minutes cost slightly more, based on a rate of 1.35 cents per minute."

  • One of the things I found interesting about this music is how the computer voice actually tries to reproduce the actual "note" of each word. I'm not sure where it gets this information from; I'm guessing it's manually fed into the generator.

    The male computer voice, however, isn't capabable of producing the range required for most of the songs, though, so it switches to a female voice occasionally to hit the higher notes (i.e., on a word-by-word basis). It's actually quite comical to hear.

    • uh - no. All the words are from's audible pronunciation guide. Soem of them are done with male voices, some of them with female voices. It's a crap shoot which one you get.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Uh, assuming you're not joking, it's not a generator singing. It's actual people reading the words from The main advantage technically for the dictionary instead of a speech generator is that the samples sound like real people saying the words inflected normally.

      A Dictionaraoke guy
  • ... to start pissing people off by trading these on Kazaa! Oh joy of joys! :-)
  • Soon the entire dictionary will be audio-copyright except for those oh so unpronouncable chemical compound names.

    Imagine what Jack Valenti would do if they made clips with a film and video camera but put the words in the mouths of a picture of the MPAA moron, Jack Valenti and wass-her-name, the RIAA bitch.

    That means that the RIAA will have to attack anybody who uses the word. Eventually, the owners of Dictionaraoke will be able to sue the RIAA for copyright violation on every press release they issue. (With any luck they'll shut up a few major world so-called-leaders. Its the rethoric of failure. We are spirits in the material world.)

    The truth is that we only need 17 rules for living (10 commandments & seven basic human motivational vectors, uh, deadly sins,) and the rest is just so much totally unnecessary verbiage generated by immoral authoritarian, patenalistic, chauvinistic scum as a means of telling you "DONT DO THAT!" and "DO AS I SAY!(Pay no attention to the man behing the curtain who's raping your little brother at knife point,)" or worse, by humans who are just trying to justify their continued parasitic existence. (You may say I'm a dreamer. ell I'm not the only one. I hope someday you will join us, and the world can live as one.)

    I hope they don't copyright the phrase 'FUCK YOU!" :-)

    HEY! George Carlin is in the extremely enviable position of being able to sue most of the world for abusing his copyright on the unauthorized use of the words "FUCK, SHIT, PISS, CUNT, MOTHER-FUCKER, COCK-SUCKER AND TITS" He could become richer than Bill Gates.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday May 13, 2002 @01:05PM (#3510754) Homepage
    This is an important idea that doesn't work very well yet. When it does, it will kill the music industry.

    First, computer-generated singing from MIDI files can be done better. Listen to Festival Singer [], from the Oregon Graduate University of Science and Technology, which is in turn based on a speech system from the University of Edinburgh. [] It's still not that great, but progress is being made. They're approaching the garage-band level.

    More components are needed to make computer-generated music more human-like. Some of that work has been done. [] The Media Lab system for Expressive Performance Extraction takes in a MIDI file and an audio recording of piano music, and builds a model of the performer's expression. This model can then be used with other MIDI files to mimic the specific pianist.

    The next big step is to do that for singers.

    The goal is to have a system where you put in a MIDI file, lyrics, performer and singer models, and push start. Out comes a performance that sounds like a good backup band.

    Because the music industry likes to have the option to replace performers, copyright law doesn't prevent doing this on popular music. You only have to pay a modest statutory royalty to the original songwriter.

    Once this works, it could make a real dent in the music industry. Performers could go the way of orators. People would still go to live performances, but we could dispense with much of the recorded music industry.

    • > People would still go to live performances, but we could dispense with much of the recorded music industry.

      Beg to disagree. A big part of what makes music, recorded or otherwise, compelling is the subtle, and occasionally random, nuances of performance. Or at least that's the case for me... As I type this, I'm listening to an old Bob Dylan record that definitely doesn't use Antares Autotune. []
  • I just listened to the version of "Puttin' on the Ritz" on the site and noticed several sound clips from Mel Brooks' movie "Young Frankenstein". So, in this case, the RIAA may not have much to say, but the MPAA could.
  • MC Hawking (Score:2, Informative)

    The only thing that outdoes dictionaroke is E=MC Hawking which features Stephen Hawking's voice modulator in rap songs about physics. My favorite? Entropy.

    Here's the lyrics:

    Entropy Trash Talk Harm me with harmony. Doomsday, drop a load on 'em. Verse 1 Entropy, how can I explain it? I'll take it frame by frame it, to have you all jumping, shouting saying it. Let's just say that it's a measure of disorder, in a system that is closed, like with a border. It's sorta, like a, well a measurement of randomness, proposed in 1850 by a German, but wait I digress. "What the fuck is entropy?", I here the people still exclaiming, it seems I gotta start the explaining. You ever drop an egg and on the floor you see it break? You go and get a mop so you can clean up your mistake. But did you ever stop to ponder why we know it's true, if you drop a broken egg you will not get an egg that's new. That's entropy or E-N-T-R-O to the P to the Y, the reason why the sun will one day all burn out and die. Order from disorder is a scientific rarity, allow me to explain it with a little bit more clarity. Did I say rarity? I meant impossibility, at least in a closed system there will always be more entropy. That's entropy and I hope that you're all down with it, if you are here's your membership. Chorus You down with entropy? Yeah, you know me! (x3) Who's down with entropy? Every last homey! Verse 2 Defining entropy as disorder's not complete, 'cause disorder as a definition doesn't cover heat. So my first definition I would now like to withdraw, and offer one that fits thermodynamics second law. First we need to understand that entropy is energy, energy that can't be used to state it more specifically. In a closed system entropy always goes up, that's the second law, now you know what's up. You can't win, you can't break even, you can't leave the game, 'cause entropy will take it all 'though it seems a shame. The second law, as we now know, is quite clear to state, that entropy must increase and not dissipate. Creationists always try to use the second law, to disprove evolution, but their theory has a flaw. The second law is quite precise about where it applies, only in a closed system must the entropy count rise. The earth's not a closed system' it's powered by the sun, so fuck the damn creationists, Doomsday get my gun! That, in a nutshell, is what entropy's about, you're now down with a discount. Chorus Trash Talk Hit it! Doomsday, kick it in!
  • Deus ex machina (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Pornosonic ( 545722 )
    This is so bad it's not even laughable.

    There is much better music that includes computer synth. When done right, it has a strange, compelling quality not unlike the opposite feeling of dehumanization. (Sorry, it's hard to describe.) "Deus ex machina" is the term I use for plastic that sounds vibrant.

    Here we go, in order of how urgent it is that you hear it (fire your respective music stealing software up NOW!):

    • Kid 606 - Catstep/My Kitten/Catnap Vatstep DSP Remix By Hrvatski (Search for "hrvatski catstep". Awesome drill n' bass fireworks sequence with a bouncy ragga synthetic MC who says "fey!" in a really high-pitched voice every verse. "we talking Cubase V S T, with the hyperprism mods / make the kids go crazy you can see it in their nods" Must be heard to be believed.)
    • El-P - Stepfather Factory (Off the new Definitive Jux compilation, this moving, conscientious, challenging rap about "stepfather factory", "so you purchase a paternal unit Class A Type 1 / the new addition to your living room space, watch it go ... in an effort to find an energy source our company's learned, the cheapest way to keep his battery running is with booze, plug it, give it a name, 'man of the house', ..." ends with the machine finally getting to speaking. I won't ruin it for you, it's chilling.)
    • Cylob - Sex Machine (Demented, dark sex machine monologue/rap. "I have no emotions, I am just a machine / But I'm the hot - test lover there's ever been")
    • Anything by MC Hawking (Stephen Hawking's hip-hop side project)
    Support independent music!
  • I am laughing so hard that my head is hurting...
    The next time one of my friends asks me what the artist is singing in the songs...

Honesty pays, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to suit some people. -- F.M. Hubbard