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Blog: Discord Diaries - Duel of the Perceptions

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Written by: Dr. Foland
Published on: November 9, 2020


This blog is part of a new series on various goings-on in the TSoG Community. If you'd like to get in on these STEM-flavored shenanigans yourself, please visit consider joining our community.


This morning, a community member posted this classic in our #random channel:


I must have missed this specific video when it was posted on YouTube 7 years ago, but the format of "misheard lyrics" is one I'm very familiar with from the early days of YouTube, Newgrounds, et al. At any rate, I'm glad to have had this video brought to my attention now because a) Duel of the Fates slaps, and b) seeing this made me ask myself some very important questions about both the Star Wars prequels and the nature of perceptual integration (as you do at 7am on a Monday morning...).

Let's start with the bit about the prequels: First, it had never occurred to me before that Duel of the Fates is the first piece of music in the canon Star Wars filmography to have lyrics (unless you count Diegetic pieces such as Lapti Nek and Jedi Rocks). Second, I had absolutely no idea what those lyrics were or even what language they were in. After a bit of research, I learned that the lyrics to Duel of the Fates originate from a 14th century Welsh poem Cad Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees).[1] The portion of the poem used in John Williams' score are as follows:

Under the tongue root
a fight most dread,
and another raging
behind in the head

Pretty cool, right? I had no idea there was meaning behind the choral chanting at the climax of The Phantom Menace, let alone the fact that it is kind of relevant to the action taking place on-screen. Interestingly enough, though, the lyrics are not sung in English, nor are they sung in the original Welsh as one might initially suspect... They are actually in Sanskrit, selected by John Williams from a variety of potential translations "because of the quality of the vowels." The lyrics of Duel of the Fates were produced from repetitions of the specific phrases "most dread / inside the head."[2] The full result is transliterated below:

Korah Matah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Rahtamah Yoodhah Korah
Korah Syahdho Rahtahmah Daanyah
Korah Keelah Daanyah
Nyohah Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Syadho Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Daanyah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Daanyah Korah Rahtahmah
Nyohah Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Syadho Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah
Korah Matah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Daanyah Korah Rahtahmah
Nyohah Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Syadho Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah

Try listening to the song again, this time while reading these lyrics above instead of looking at the silly pictures in the video. Pretty neat, huh? This is an example of an auditory illusion, cousin of the perhaps more familiar optical illusion. Auditory illusions made an appearance in the mainstream during the great "Yanny vs. Laurel" debacle of 2018 (Fun Fact: I have never been able to hear anything but "Laurel" in this exercise and secretly suspect that anyone who claims to is lying... but I digress.) I am actually unsure if there is a formal name for the auditory illusion I can only describe as "putting silly words on a screen while foreign language / mumbled lyrics play and you end up hearing the silly words", but it is a pervasive one: I have seen it applied to songs by Fallout Boy, Pearl Jam, and the Finnish version of the DuckTales theme song, to name a few. If anyone knows a specific name for this phenomenon / auditory illusion, please let me know!

The closest named effect I can identify is the relatively well-known McGurk effect, although that specifically refers to contradictory lip-reading, not song lyrics. Check out an excellent example of this effect below:


Here's another fun example, posted by the same community member who originally posted Duel of the Fates. I don't know the name of this effect either, but in this, a scrambled MIDI version of Smash Mouth's All Star manages to convince my brain that it's hearing the original lyrics. I wasn't convinced at first, but once it got to the line "shape of an 'L' on her forehead," it was all ogre:



All of these are examples of illusions related to sensory integration. When our brains try to process conflicting information - such as conflicting auditory / visual information as seen in the mismatched song lyrics videos and the McGurk effect, or scrambled / low quality audio as seen in the "Yanny vs. Laurel" and scrambled MIDI example - they attempt to make sense of the faulty data in ways that are often misleading. As our Discord conversations often do, this conversation led me to a fantastic video that I had to share. The video, a 13 minute TEDx presentation by Jennifer Bizley, covers the ways in which our brains attempt to integrate such conflicting data from a neuroscience perspective, including some of the misleading conclusions they can lead us to. I hope you'll take the time to watch the full thing!




If this kind of thing is up your alley, please consider joining our Discord community. It's a great group of people with interests representing nearly every branch of STEM. We hope you'll add your input to the discussion too!


References
  1. A. Krerowicz, On the Lyrics of "Duel of the Fates", May 13, 2014. Accessed on: Nov. 9, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.aaronkrerowicz.com/star-wars-blog/on-the-lyrics-of-duel-of-the-fates
  2. R. Dyer, Making 'Star Wars' Sing Again, Boston Globe, Mar. 28, 1999. Accessed on: Nov. 9, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://web.archive.org/web/20090105220659/http://www.askmar.com/Film/Movie Music.pdf