The Trippiest Christmas Cover Ever

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Mike Theiler / Reuters

This is wonderful: An unnamed Internet someone ran Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” through a MIDI converter. Then they played the MIDI file back into an MP3. Then they posted it online. You can listen to it here. You should go do that.

“I’m driving myself up the wall because I swear I can hear the vocal line but I don’t know how that could be if it was truly converted to MIDI,” writes Red No. 3, the blogger who picked up this file.

I’m hearing the same thing, and I think it’s not just because we’re used to hearing Mariah Carey’s voice sing these exact notes. Rather, I think it’s because the MIDI converter perfectly transcribed the formant of each vowel to piano. That is: Every vowel sound produced by a human mouth doesn’t just contain one main tone, but many tones above and below it. Different vowels don’t sound the same in part because the shape of a speaker’s mouth naturally accentuates different overtones and undertones.

In fact, it’s possible to shift a vowel sound so much that a certain overtone “pops out,” and the singer seems to sing two tones at once. This is what’s known as harmonic overtone singing. Both contemporary choral composers and Tuvan throat singers deploy this technique to great effect.

So if you really do think you can hear “I don’t care about the presents” in this MIDI-fied cover, you’re not hallucinating. You’re just experiencing the full range of human speech.

And anyway, regardless, I implore you to go listen to this file. It’s a fantasia in impossible instrumentalism, an aural orgiastic ode to the New Aesthetic. It’s I am sitting in a room made bubblegum and glam and super intoxicated and wearing a electrified and half-cocked crown of St. Lucia.