My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

The chandeliers at this hotel I stayed at sure looked like Victrola horns.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

I flew a kite for the first time in decades if not ages, for the first time perhaps since before my own age hit double digits. The kite was a gift my child, still early on in single digits, had received, and we took it down to the ocean — a straight shot by bus from our home — to see how well it took to the wind. There is a dragon on the kite, a not particularly friendly looking dragon. The higher the kite flew, the more the dragon’s eyes seemed to shine with the sun. If you can hear your kite, that’s not a particularly good sign. When the kite lingers a couple dozen feet above the beach, the tails flutter perceptibly, much like a flag fighting to stay erect in a storm. If you hear your kite, it is proximate to ground, perhaps heading rapidly in that direction. The goal is to not hear your kite. The higher the kite goes, the quieter the flutter, until at some point the kite makes no sound at all. It ascends into silence. I had it in the air for almost 45 minutes straight, learning to tug this way and that to keep it afloat when the elements challenged its flight plan. At some point I recognized that I could pluck the string and watch the waveform travel up to the heavens, up to the kite, which would jiggle a bit in response. The slender tether made me think of Ellen Fullman’s Long String Instrument, which places the performer, generally Fullman herself, in a field of resonant strings, like a Lilliputian caught in a luthier’s workshop. I wondered how my long string might come to make sound, rather than recede from sound. As it hung in the air, I took mental notes about attaching something, maybe a bell, maybe a wind chime. Those experiments are for the next trip to the beach.

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This Week in Sound: Sounds of and for the Cosmos +

hospital music + phone hiss + speech recognition + Smule + sound grands + notable deaths

A lightly annotated clipping service:

Bedside Manner: Medicine X is Stanford University’s initiative to explore “the future of medicine and healthcare.” As summarized by Andrea Ford at the school’s Scope publication, MedX has an artist in residence, Yoko Sen, who is addressing issues of noise pollution in hospitals: “She played the audience a track of beeps, buzzes, alarms, and mumbled voices; other hospital sounds include patients screaming, and the empty silence after bad news is delivered.” 

Phone Hum: Much of the yap about the iPhone 7 is its haptic (touch) improvements, but as Matthew Hughes reports at the Next Web it “makes an audible hissing noise whenever under intense strain.” Hughes credits the detection to Stephen Hackett, who “eventually realized that the noise wasn’t coming from the speaker, but rather from the logic board itself.” Hughes quotes Marco Arment correctly likening it to the sound a laptop fan makes when the CPU is being overly taxed. Other theories exist, too, the most colorfully named being “coil whine.”
(via Warren Ellis’ Sunday email newsletter)

Always Listening: “How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back” — those are the questions that Charles McLellan seeks to answer in his detailed TechRepublic piece, tracing it from the dissection of human speech through computer recognition, the role of neural networks in passing the WER (or “word error rate”) test, on through natural language understanding, and a sense of where AI is headed.

V’ger’s Greatest Hits: The Voyager space probes carried a “Golden Record” conceived by Carl Sagan that contained exemplary sounds of our planet to hypothetical intelligent civilizations far beyond our modest solar system. David Pescovitz of Boing Boing is leading a Kickstarter project to make the record available closer to home, a gorgeous box set with three vinyl LPs and a collection of images from the probes.
(via Rob Walker, Bruce Levenstein, others)

Smule’s Pitch: At, Murry Newlands interviews Smule’s CEO and co-founder, Jeff Smith, about the business side of the social-oriented music-app developer, looking at matters of profitability, misperceptions about the scope of the music market, and the unique nature of the sounds they produce. Says Smith, “For example, because our community is creating the music, we’re not using that master recording, and we’re not licensing the master recording from the label. Instead, we’re licensing the copyright to the composition from the publisher, from the writer. And we pay royalties out to all the writers.” 

Sound Awards: At least three of this week’s announced MacArthur Grant winners work in sound and music: Daryl Baldwin, a linguist working on cultural preservation in a culture that “lost its last native speaker in the mid-twentieth century”; Josh Kun, a cultural historian of popular music (I helped out on the pop-up Tikva Records store Kun and others at the Idelsohn Society put together in 2011); and Julia Wolfe, composer and co-founder of Bang on a Can.

Tome On: While physical and ebook sales are slipping (paperbacks have risen), Alexandra Alter reports in the New York Times that audiobooks sales are up.

Olde Tyme: The Internet Archive (which is housed walking distance from my home, and just a block from where I first lived when I moved to San Francisco in 1996, 20 years ago) reports on the process of saving 78-rpm records in collaboration with New York’s ARChive of Contemporary Music.
(via Joseph Witek and Michael Rhode)

Recent notable deaths:

RIP, Don Buchla (b. 1937), synthesizer legend

RIP, Charmian Carr (b. 1942), aka Lisel von Trapp from The Sound of Music

RIP, Trisco Pearson of the Force MDs

RIP, Curtis Hanson (b. 1945), 8 Mile director

RIP, actor Terence Bayler (b. 1930), aka Leggy Mountbatten, manager of fictional Beatles-parody band The Rutles

RIP, songwriter John D. Loudermilk (b. 1934); songs played by Paul Revere & the Raiders, Nashville Teens, Roy Orbison, Marianne Faithfull

RIP, Earl Smith Jr., aka DJ Spank Spank, of acid house group Phuture

RIP, Haakon Sørbye (b. 1920); as a member of WWII-era Skylark B, he relayed German troop information to London

I tweet notable passings (among other things) from my account as I come upon them. I’ll see about collecting them here, as well, henceforth.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the September 23, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from

The city’s doorways are littered with antiquated doorbells, with replacement devices glued next to faulty equipment, with buttons rubbed hollow and faceplates cracked from years of abuse, stained by the elements. What you don’t see very often is a button, like this one, busted to its core, splayed like a fetal pig in a science lab, split like a child’s toy after an especially hyperactive birthday party. In a city with more than its share of lackluster doorbells, this one is still an outlier, the button itself missing entirely, the spring-like ribbon of metal twisted beyond use, the inner casing rusted. This device is devoid of any evidence of social interaction, all the more so when taken in the broader context of the entry: the flaked paint, the cracked seams, the rusting gate. And yet there is, still, something admirable about those twin screws, with their broad, flat faces and sizable gaps. They look tight, sturdy, stalwart. The doorbell may be beyond repair, and the doorway may suggest that no one cares enough to even try, but the screws are formidable: What’s left of this doorbell will be hanging around for some time to come.

An ongoing series cross-posted from
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This Week in Sound: Chernobyl Bird Detection +

Data loss + sports foul + Marvel temp tracks + academic formats + the sound of Tinder

A lightly annotated clipping service:

Windup Bird: Why not participate in the Bird Audio Detection challenge, currently underway thanks to the Machine Listening Lab of Queen Mary University of London in collaboration with the IEEE Signal Processing Society. “Detecting bird sounds in audio is an important task for automatic wildlife monitoring,” states the announcement post, which among other things introduces the concept of “automatic wildlife monitoring.” The deadline for participation is December, and there are two datasets — one of them from Chernobyl.

Kept Soundly: During a test run of a “fire suppression system” intended to keep safe the data systems of a Romanian bank, the extremely loud sound of gas canisters letting loose caused enough vibration to reportedly damage the bank’s hard drives, writes Andrada Fiscutean at Vice’s Motherboard.
(via Braulio Agnese)

No Love: A follow-up to last week’s piece about the tennis stadium where a newly installed roof kept out the rain but pumped up the volume: this time around it’s a tennis match during which, per the Associated Press, “a loud noise from a malfunctioning sound system interrupted a key point, resulting in a do-over.”
(via @BellyFullOfStar)

Excelsior, or Not: As Alexander Lu writes at, the current Marvel cinematic universe is peculiarly void of memorable scores. He looks into why, emphasizing the role of temp tracks. This isn’t the case with the Netflix TV series; the upcoming Luke Cage looks like it’s going to use hip-hop to maximum effect, thanks no doubt to Cheo Hodari Coker, a former music critic who also worked on the show Southland. Southland, famously, didn’t have a score at all, but it used the appearance of everyday music, like from passing cars and block parties, quite well. Perhaps things will improve when there’s a Dazzler movie. Or a Banshee one. Natalie Zutter weighed in the next day on the subject at
(via Eric Searleman of the great

Paper Formats: Kristine Samson and Sanne Krogh Grogh have proposed a new academic format, the Audio Paper, “as appropriate for academic presentations.”

The Sound of Swiping: Tinder, the dating app, got a makeover in July. Mark Wilson at Fast Company Design reports on how the audio branding agency Listen gave it its own sounds, the app having previously relied on “stock sounds in the iOS library.”

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the September 16, 2016, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter:

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