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Google Beatbox (translate.google.com)
1028 points by shomyo on Nov 29, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments

yo i gotta hear that one more time man: http://translate.google.com/#de|de|zwkkzwkkzwkkzwkk.%20pv%20...

Alright. I'm impressed with the rewind.

I don’t get it, I don’t hear anything. Am I supposed to hear something?

Edit Okay, there are Flash “Listen” buttons you can’t see if you don’t have Flash installed.

And yet, even in a browser with Flash, I hear nothing. All I see is a button that turns light blue and dark blue. Which is “play”? This is why I always rant about piss-poor UX from Google.

I still don’t hear anything. Anyone have an MP3?

It isn't just you. I don't hear anything, either. [EDIT: Fixed; see below.]

Also, I agree on the poor UI design.

But in any case, assuming this works, which it apparently does, for some, it's a cute idea.

EDIT: Got it working. Are you running Flashblock? I am, and after I put translate.google.com into FB's whitelist, I get audio. When the button is light blue, press it. The button turns dark blue, and the sound plays. When the sound is finished, the button goes back to light blue.

Thanks for explaining this. I don't have Flash and was very confused why nonsense words being translated to the same nonsense words was of interest to anyone...


On a related note, try running this on a Mac:

  say -v cello d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d d

Or this:

    say -v cello droid

that's hilarious - and amazingly ironic

Just went through the OS X speech synth voices and I recognized some being used in quite a few electronic music productions, for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EK2NG28vKNw

Radiohead used the Mac voice a bit on their 'OK Computer' album. Obviously on 'Fitter Happier' and in the background on 'Paranoid Android'.

Also, I believe Pixar used the Mac voice for the ship's navigation computer in WALL-E

Marilyn Manson used the voice on certain tracks on Antichrist Superstar.

According to Wikipedia:

The song "Man That You Fear" by Marilyn Manson ends with the MacInTalk voices repeating, "When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed". Also, during live performances of "Antichrist Superstar", the MacInTalk voices repeat "You might as well kill yourself - you're already dead" at the end of the song.


say -v Fred Fitter, Happier, More productive

Also on a related note, try Win+R this on Windows:

    mshta vbscript:CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice").Speak("Hello, Y Combinator")(Window.close)

In an ideal world:

  say -v joshua Shall we play a game?

I wonder why the 13th note is wrong compared to the original melody.

There used to be these commands in the pre OS-X TTS system that let you specify arbitrary pitch/timing for the synth. People could make songs with it.

There still are! Macintalk hasn't changed much since then.


Thanks! I think I have my next weekend project.

The Amiga speech device had a nice phoneme grammar you could use to make it say all sorts of odd things.

The one that stuck with me, and still amuses my kids, is 'uuuuuuuuuuuuuuu' on the Amiga (comes out as "yuyuyuyuyuyu" in a slightly descending tone).

Or this:

    say -v cello foobarfoobarfoobarfo foobarfoofoobarfi

Ok... that is awesome!... sounds like a techno/house mix

Here's your rudiment/instrument notation

zk = suspended cymbal

bschk = snare

pv = brush

bk = bass

tk = flam1

vk = roll tap

kt = flam2

kttp = flam tap

krp = hi hat tap

pv = short roll

th = better hi hat

thp, ds = instant rimshot.

So, I went ahead and made a drum machine out of your notes using a bit of JavaScript...


Load it as a bookmarklet using this:

javascript:(function(){document.body.appendChild(document.createElement("script")).src = "https://gist.github.com/raw/721253/f70c2bdeaed54d9907a448504...

EDIT: the bookmarklet is getting cut off by HN, see the first comment on the gist linked above.

Unfortunately there's a little bit of delay due to loading the sounds but it sort of works.

I've created a new version of your great script, now it uses the javascript Audio() class.


This is the bookmarklet: javascript:(function(){document.body.appendChild(document.createElement("script")).src="http://bit.ly/googlebeat})()

So desperate to get this to work...but no avail!

I made the bookmarklet in my firefox toolbar with the javascript code.

I open google translate, click the bookmarklet...nothing happens.

My roomate thinks it's an error with the bit.ly redirect

Any suggestions? I want it SO BAD

This is what you need to do to get it to work:

0. Use fix close quote on bit.ly redirect if you are using the parent comment...

1. Load Google Translate: http://translate.google.com

2. Load the bookmarklet.

3. Click the new buttons at the bottom of the page.

See the howto from the gist: https://gist.github.com/721554#file_how_to.txt

Thanks for the response. I got it! But the play button doesn't seem to work...not a big deal.

A tip for composers, use commas and periods for rests

It doesn't work because Firefox doesn't support mp3 format through <audio> html tag.

This script supports only Safari and Chrome by now.

That's awesome!

If you want to pre-compose your beat and then paste it into Google Beatbox, you can use this simple GUI script:


Awesome work, if you can append sounds to the next and create a string of phonemes instead of replacing after you click, that'd be even more awesome.

Try the techno-sound: Tischdecke! (Works in real life, haven't tried it on Google translate, yet. And means `table cloth'.)

For all germans here: repeat "Böse Katze" (bad cat) and you have an instant beatbox.

And for English speakers, "Scott's Boots"

I've always liked "Boots and Pants", personally.

It said the word but I broke down your suggestion far enough that Th actually gives you a much better hi hat sound. Thanks!

Use . to add tempo. Each full-stop adds a fixed amount of time before the next word is pronounced.

What do all those "k"s do?

you forgot .pv

like .pv pv zk bschkpv zk ds


I love this lol,^_^. I hope someone puts out a track using this.

German is the mother tongue of beat.

Try translating to spanish or french, they are a little bit interesting.

Drum and Bass anyone?


edit: correction fr|fr => de|de

If any of you want to hear some ridiculously awesome beatboxing, check out Roxorloops - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P7sdo_Aj0o

And then there's this session by Beardyman and Nathan "Flutebox" Lee at Google... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3kyNGVK-hI ^_^

It also passes first year German with flying colours:


Because they train it with EU documents, which are required by law to be translated into all the languages of the member countries. Since the documents are made available for public use, machine translation between European languages has become significantly better in recent years because the EU documents are being used to train the software.

Can anybody explain why this works in German?

It seems like in other languages it just reads out the letters.

I'm guessing it's because those letter combinations are actually sounds in German, but not in any other languages (that I know of).

Not really. At least not on a naive level. None of "pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk pv zk bschk pv zk pv bschk zk bschk pv bschk bschk pv kkkkkkkkkk bschk" occurs in any German word.

Fatzke, Blitzkrieg, Hupverbot.

Apart from Fatzke, you are cheating. And even in Fatzke, it's not in one syllable.

Okay, compound nouns are probably not what you had in mind when you made your statement. But then again, your statement was pretty general. Regarding Fatzke: "zk" is not in one syllable either. At least not when I (or google) pronounce it. :)

> Regarding Fatzke: "zk" is not in one syllable either.

Yes, that's what I was trying to say. But since it's not compound, it's not as bad.

By the way, if you want a genuine example of strange sounds in German look at Herbst or Pfründe.

Fun fact: If you can pronounce Streichholzschächtelchen, you automatically gain German citizenship.

My first long German word was Schwarzwälderkirschtorte. Nowhere near as difficult as yours.

The standard example is supreme court vs Bundesverfassungsgericht. The chief difference is in spelling.

I had a phase, where my German looked much more English---I put spaced inside compound words and did not capitalize all nouns. I should try capitalizing all Nouns in English one Day.

It also works in Italian and Spanish, and sorta works in French -- I'm sure it has to do with the phonemes in each language and how the languages are implemented in the text-to-speech algorithm.

Chinese sounds like rapping. "I say H crazy":


Greek just reads the name of each letter:


Now waiting for Radiohead to pull out something based on this.

Someone build a little web app that lets you press symbols that represent each instrument, and build beats that you can loop.The google site stops letting you use the "Listen" button after a certain number of characters.

OK, on the serious side, is the most upvoted story ever? If not, what is the most upvoted story ever? How about a list of the Top 25 All Time?

Can I pay to see it?

You can see the top 100 here: http://top.searchyc.com/submissions_by_points

Google's New approach to China article is #1 atm — http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1048800

That's recent, that's not ever. I'm talking all-time Hacker News stories.

Listen doesn't work in Safari 5.0.3?

Uses an invisible Flash object, so if you're using ClickToFlash or other Flash-blocking plugin you'll have to manually load the object.

That worked! Thanks. Strange that autoloading of invisible Flash objects was enabled.

I don't think it is, I think it's JavaScript interacting with the Flash object.

Would it be practical to make remote calls to the listen function? Usage: if I want to have a webpage read speech automatically to the user after a javascript event, without showing the google page. I expect the first step would be loading the page in a hidden iframe.

That actually is fairly similar to a webapp I built in 30 minutes a few months ago. I had the idea to build a webform that lets you type in some text, and the computer reads it back.

If you are using OS X, you should be able to use the `say` command to create a recording of a voice speaking a sentence. You could likely take that, pipe it into a file and serve it up in an <audio> tag and play it from javascript that way.

I might try hacking my project to do exactly that. However, I think a sane solution for you would be to make use of system accessibility options or screen readers. The downside there is that you can't call into those from a user's browser.

In case anyone from Google Translate reads this: your URLs are highly resistant to shortening services.

Both is.gd and safe.mn mangled it, I think it's the pipe characters. Thankfully bit.ly works...

I don't think there is a chance in hell that google would ever consider augmenting its url structure on behalf of or to play nice with a shortening service.

Does it work with goog.le?

absolutely brilliant!!

Here's a basic hiphop beat. You can use punctuation for timing:

German: bk, th, bsch, th, pv, th, bschk, ds, bk, th, bsch, th, pv, th, bschk, ds

Thanks to iamdave for the instrument list x)

zk zk zk vk flam2 flam2


...and so continues the long slow decline of hacker news...

Using a text-to-speech engine as a musical instrument is so on-topic in my book!

"On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity."

Beatboxing seems to be a very geeky scene. Not that I know much about it, but look at the biggest names in beatboxing - most of them would blend in no problem in any CS department. Looks don't mean much, but still, on interviews these guys give off the same vibe.

I think that this submission does not belong to the HN. It carries little educational value and I wouldn't call it deeply interesting (as described in ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html ). There isn't any effort to explain the beatbox effect. Also there are many voice synthesizers, google's is just the easiest accessible one. This is why the link seems to me just like a funny picture of a cat and I am deeply alarmed. (sorry for bad english, non-native here)

The defining characteristic of hacker culture is the awe of beautiful code. When the unforeseen side effects from feeding a program with edge case input are as deeply gratifying as these, it instills a sense of beauty and awe of the underlying code.

As is shown by the number of upvotes, people don't come to HN to educate themselves. They come here to be awed. Education is a side effect.

"The defining characteristic of hacker culture is the awe of beautiful code."

Not for me. I find the defining characteristic of hacker culture to be the inventive re-purposing of things.

Google Beatbox is exemplary of this.

I find it funny and amazing, though. I like HN for its diversity. Every time, I find something new, but I also want it to be different. I'm just starting my day (morning here) and this post made laugh and in good humor.

There are other sites more suited for this task: reddit.com , reddit.com/r/programming , digg.com and others. As stated in http://ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html , "The worst thing to post or upvote is something that's intensely but shallowly interesting"

What's this if not hacking?

I do miss funny pictures of cats on Hacker News.

(here's one from this week, by the way: http://pudgykitties.tumblr.com/post/1662418075/why)

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