Finally, Greek composer Yanni has offered his take on the great “Yanny versus Laurel” debate of 2018. While the internet is no doubt grateful for his whimsical, jazz-infused New Age wisdom, his bias is obvious.
On Tuesday, the viral meme “Yanny versus Laurel” became this year’s “Dress Illusion,” dividing Twitter completely in half. While some hear “Yanny” repeated in the four-second audio clip first posted by Cloe Feldman, others hear “Laurel.” Now that thousands of internet users have listened (or have desperately tried to alter their audio perception to hear) “Yanny” repeated over and over, it was only a matter of time before the meme’s namesake came forward.
Yanni, for the record, hears “Yanny.” And while his bias is undeniable, his expertise in pitch adds an extra layer to this audio mystery. For decades, Yanni has led orchestras and composed cross-genre symphonies using instruments from around the world, all as part of his “One World, One People” philosophy. But if there is only one people, why can’t half of us hear “Yanny”?
The reason why we hear different words comes down to the differences in the way people hear frequencies that make up the sound. Rory Turnbull, Ph.D., an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, explained that the “Laurel” interpretation has higher frequencies than the “Yanny” interpretation, meaning that devices that increase or decrease certain frequencies might lead listeners to perceive one over the other. However, there’s only so much we can blame on our external hardware. It also comes down to what Turnbull calls the “cognitive dimension,” in which people mentally “fill in” sounds that they don’t necessarily perceive with their ears.
Yanni is currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of his legendary 1993 performance at the Acropolis in Athens with an anniversary concert tour. His next performance is in Cleveland on Friday, followed by a concert in New York City on Saturday.
It’s still uncertain whether he will incorporate the 4-second audio clip into his setlist, but given his reputation for blending music synthesizers with eclectic and unconventional orchestras, it wouldn’t be his most unusual accompaniment.